Friday, May 07, 2010
What kind of transgressive anarchist bitches about less-talented copycats? Though most critics profess admiration for Banksy's directorial debut, Exit Through The Gift Shop, the film ultimately seems as embarrassing and mystique-destroying a venture as Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster. Exit initially consists of footage shot by Thierry Guetta, an obsessive filmographer who followed street artists like Invader and Shepard Fiery as they plastered and spray-painted their insignias throughout urban areas. Eventually serving as a lookout for the enigmatic antihero Banksy himself, Guetta is commissioned to make a doc from his massive archive. After he turns in an incoherent montage, Banksy relives Guetta of his responsibilities (and tapes), flippantly advising him to become an artist himself. Mass-producing a stream of derivative works and using quotes from his artist pals to stir hype, the former accomplice quickly makes a mint as Mister Brainwash, disgusting the old guard of street art.
While it's easy to be skeptical of the movie's veracity, I have to believe the film is mostly honest, if only because of how petty Banksy makes himself look. Attempting to paint Guetta as both a fool and a huckster, the copyright-infringing, unrepentant vandal proves rather protective of his own brand. You'd think someone who painted cracks in the West Bank wall would enjoy his faithful accomplice bilking LA's impressionable out of a million dollars in a week, but Guetta's success has Banksy and Fiery stuttering in dismay, the former even saying he no longer suggests friends make their own art. Though Banksy hints at comprehending the irony (whining Guetta "didn't follow the rules" while admitting "there aren't supposed to any rules"), their professional jealousy shows how much these art-terrorists hold their hip cachet and market value sacred (why show celebs at Banksy's showing and idiot trendoids at Guetta's otherwise?). By suggesting their financial success is merited by years of hard work, they reduce the political implications of street art to "paying dues." (It's also worth noting that while Banksy uses Guetta's own footage to out him as a charlatan, Guetta has never revealed his former friend's true identity).
As with Some Kind Of Monster, the pathetic truths revealed certainly don't make the film any less fascinating or entertaining. But where Metallica simply funded their own humiliation, Banksy (assuming the film is not a hoax) crafted his own while lashing out at an associate too naive to realize he wasn't as remarkable an artist. That so few seem to be realize what he's doing makes the aftertaste even more sour.