Banksy’s Film “Exit through the Gift Shop”

“Exit through the Gift Shop” could be called an educational film about the evolution of modern street art. It is an epic tale of art, friendship, greed, betrayal and the American dream.  The mastermind behind the film is none other than the notorious British street artist known as Banksy.

Banksy has been doling out social and political commentary through his work globally for several years. He is most known for a recurring rat theme that has appeared in UK, New York and Los Angeles.

The film picked up a significant amount of media coverage domestically when it premiered in January of 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City Utah. Banksy himself showed up in Utah and painted a couple of pieces in Salt Lake City, as well as Park City, during the week of the film festival.

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Banksy Piece in Salt Lake City, UT (Photo: Dan J. Richards)

A lot of big names in the street art scene appear in the film. The main subject is Mr. Brainwash aka MBW, a controversial French street artist, who happens to be the cousin of Space Invader. As it turns out Space Invader was MBW’s ticket into underground world of guerrilla street art.

MBW’s work is controversial for many street art enthusiasts, because his work seems to be so derivative of Warhol and other modern artists/street artists, including those who he met through his cousin. In fact, in the beginning, MBW was not a street artist at all. He was a self proclaimed film maker, who also owned and operated “vintage” clothing shops in the LA area.

To the layperson, these details may seem mundane, but they put the film into perspective as commentary on street art movement is still evolving. Between the time of the film’s debut at the Sundance Film Festival and the Los Angeles premiere earlier this month, MBW has unveiled a huge gallery installation in a commercial space located in New York City’s meat packing district.

Mr. Brainwash NYC Exhibit (Courtesy of Animal New York)
Mr. Brainwash NYC Exhibit (Courtesy of Animal New York)

Simultaneously, several trailers and teasers for the Banksy film were popping up on the internet. In addition to the teasers, a video of  Shepard Fairey surfaced on the net, in which Fairey gives a little bit of the backstory (below), of the conundrum that is developed and explained as the subject of “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

Shepard Fairey is the designer behind the “Obey” label, and the “Hope” image of Obama (over which Fairey and the Associated Press are currently embattled in litigation). Fairey’s commentary starts around 6:30.

Here’s  a teaser in which Banksy actually appears and gives some commentary detailing his motivation for producing the film.

Even without the back story, the film is extremely well done and entertaining. That it has been released in the midst of an ongoing controversy, on which its subject is based, makes it topical. Contemporaneously with the LA premiere, the LA Weekly published a piece introducing the film:

If Exit Through the Gift Shop, narrated by actor Rhys Ifans, is technically flawed, the documentary is nevertheless a savvy testament to the concept of DIY filmmaking, both a valuable recorded history of a scene and an awesome romp through perilous L.A. with the world’s most admired street artists, allowing viewers to experience life underground in the wee hours of the morning. Through the eyes of Guetta, a native Frenchman who inadvertently stumbled into the world of graffiti art, we witness wheat-paste postering at death-defying heights, intricate stenciling on rooftops and the inevitable run-ins with police.

Street art battles have moved out of the provincial realms of taggers holding down their respective corners, and have expanded to the big screen for the mainstream to get familiar. This film is definitely worth checking out. Local theaters and schedules are listed on the film’s official website.

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