I am not the world’s biggest fan of documentaries, much though it shames me to say it. I often find them dry and uninteresting. I can’t invest in them in the same way I would with a fictional film. Unless it’s related specifically to something I am interested in personally, you’ll have to try very hard to get me to watch one.
Exit Through The Gift Shop may have converted me.
Released in 2008, it is the tale of street art and its many followers. It begins as we follow Frenchman Thierry Guetta, a man who is either a genius or an idiot: he follows many local street artists around with his video camera, collecting hours of footage every night. Street art is his life, although he doesn’t make any of it. Through sheer chance, he meets Banksy, who is the most famous street artist there is, a form of global superstar (if you haven’t heard of him, Google him). Thierry follows him around like a ghost, becoming further entwined in Banksy’s craft. Originally trying to make a documentary (of sorts) about Banksy, Banksy took the footage and then crafted it all into a documentary about Thierry. Then the film was born.
It all sounds confusing, but as you’re watching it, it all falls into place nicely. Thierry is an incredibly likable man, and you come to genuinely care about him towards the end of the film. Banksy is urbane, witty, and dry, even though his face is blacked out and his voice distorted. The two, together, as subjects of the documentary, are fantastic, and some sequences will leave you gobsmacked (the Guantanamo Bay blow-up doll at Disneyland, for one)
The film is a joy. It’s as simple as that. It invites you in with its selection of characters and leaves you enchanted. It changed my view of street art, and documentaries in general, and this is enormously to the film’s credit.
Thierry Guetta. The man who is the subject of this documentary, and he is as enigmatic at the end as he is when we first meet him. He is a walking bundle of contradictions, at some points appearing to be quite eloquent, at others coming across like a pretentious M. Hulot. We are never quite sure what to make of him, apart from at the end, when we are invited to laugh gently at his sheer ridicuousness.
Then, there is the pervading question throughout the film: is it all a hoax? We are never entirely sure. We are quite confident that Thierry is who he says it is, as it is quite hard to hoax an entire lifetime. We can also be quite confident that his events through the film are legitimate too: again, it is quite hard to hoax a multi-million dollar art exhibition for the sake of a street-level documentary. But there is always the niggling feeling there, that all of this is a massive con, and that Thierry and Banksy are in cahoots together. It’s something for you to ponder after the film is finished.
Even if you’re not interested in street art, or don’t even know what it is, this film is accessible. It explains it all to you, including its origins and founding fathers, and you come out feeling like something of an expert on the topic. This is an utterly enthralling, captivating, hilarious and fascinating film that I recommend anyone, of any age, to see.