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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: April 15, 2010 08:43 AM

Movie Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop

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Almost as primal as the age-old dichotomy between good and evil is the struggle between art and commerce.

Does the market taint the artist? Does the artist compromise his integrity if he plays to the market? Can art be both commercially successful and still be creatively innovative? And so forth.

All of these issues arise, though they aren't actually discussed, in Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary credited to the anonymous British street artist, Banksy. Though his face is never seen, Banksy himself serves as the guiding spirit behind what you see onscreen, as he is interviewed about what we are seeing (with his face hidden in the shadow of a hoodie).

As he explains, the film began as a documentary about Banksy and street artists in general by an L.A.-based Frenchman named Thierry Guetta. The owner of a Melrose Avenue boutique, Thierry was a home-video fiend who seemed to believe that nothing in his life was real unless he captured it on video. So he spends virtually all of his time with a small video camera in his hand, recording the events of his and his family's life.

(This is later psychologized as his attempt to hang on to what is precious in his life, following the trauma of his mother's sudden death when he was a pre-teen. It's a theory to which Thierry himself seems to put the lie when he reveals that his thousands of hours of video are never watched, never even catalogued, barely even labeled - but simply dumped into overflowing bins in his home office.)

On vacation in France, Thierry discovers that his cousin is, in fact, a street artist known as Space Invader. His medium consists of small tile mosaics of the characters from that seminal video game, which he sticks up in various public places under cover of darkness.

Before long, Thierry is spending his spare time following and chronicling Space Invader's exploits - which leads him to the street artist Shepard Fairey and other outlaw artists. (There is no discussion in the film about the definition of street art, what separates it from simple graffiti or where the line is between street art and vandalism.) Which, finally, leads him to Banksy, one of the most imaginative and satirically-socially conscious of the street artists.

This review continues on my website.

 
 
 

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