Erin Petersen

“The first art disaster movie”

By - May 14th, 2010 04:00 am
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Banksy as seen in “Exit Through the Gift Shop”

Banksy never intended to make a film. He didn’t intend to create an art monster either, but sometimes these things happen.

“I’d like to start by saying that I never intended to make a film,” he says , appearing only in a darkened silhouette and speaking in an altered voice, naturally.”Some people might say that I’ve succeeded in that ambition.”

Exit Through the Gift Shop is narrated by Welsh actor Rhys Ifans and punctuated by Banksy’s dry wit,  follows Thierry Guetta, a French cameraman  transplanted to Los Angeles. Thierry is, for lack of a better word, a character. He’s brash, a bit smarmy and (unintentionally) hilarious, but there is a certain sweetness about him.

Thierry is obsessed with filming everything. No really, everything. His camera is always rolling, capturing even the most mundane daily rituals. In the late 90s, he returns to France and is reunited with his cousin, who just happens to be the street artist Space Invader (!!!). One night, Invader and a few other artists take Thierry out tagging and allow him to film them and he finds a new obsession.

He spends the next few years following street artists around the world, filming them as they spray paint, glue and wheat-paste their work up across the urban landscape. Thierry is overly zealous and a great lookout, plus he offers a certain immortality that these particular artists crave. Everyone from Shepard Fairey (Thierry randomly met him at a Kinkos) to Swoon allows him to film them at work, assuming that he  intends to create the first in-depth documentary about the street art movement.

He is eventually introduced to Bansky, which is a feat in itself, as Bansky is one of the most illusive characters in street art. And rightly so —though his audacious and subversive works that have been spotted everywhere from the Gulf Coast to the West Bank and bring in plenty at auction, the mysterious Englishman would do some serious time were he ever outed.

After spending nearly a decade immersed in the shadowy culture of underground street art, Thierry decides to try his hand at it. The thing is, he is no artist. That’s not to say that his “art” is bad; it’s just everything that street artists don’t want to represent.

As “Mister Brainwash,” Thierry essentially recycles pop culture iconography, throws in a few random splashes of paint and sells it for tens of thousands of dollars a pop. But Thierry knows about hype, and in the plastic fantastic universe that is Los Angeles, it’s all that matters.

“Andy Warhol was replicating images to show they were meaningless,” Banksy says at one point in the film. “And now thanks to Mister Brainwash, they’re definitely meaningless.”

Exit Through the Gift Shop, described by Banksy himself as “the first street art disaster movie,” opens tonight at the Oriental Theatre. For showtimes, check their website.

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