Bansky made a film. At least it seems like he did. It does say “a Banksy Film” in the opening credits.
World-famous street artist Banksy appears at the start of Exit Through the Gift Shop surrounded by broken bits of art, seated and silhouetted in the dark like a Dateline crime witness, his voice altered to protect his identity.
If you haven’t heard of the Michael Jordan of street artists or other members of this handful of underground craftsmen (like Shepard Fairey and Space Invader), you’ll need to look them up before seeing this film. The premise itself is a tad confusing to explain, even with knowledge of these insurrectionist artists whose work now sells for millions of dollars.
The film follows documentary wannabe and alleged Frenchman Thierry Guetta as he becomes acquainted with this underworld art form through his cousin, Space Invader. He starts off filming his cousin, then moves on to other street artists before finally meeting and documenting the work and life of Banksy.
When it comes time to actually edit the footage, however, Guetta throws together what appears like a crack-induced montage of different street artists placing their work on abandoned walls, according to Banksy, they’ve been thrown together with no real thought or artistry.
That’s when Banksy turns things around on Guetta.
He convinces the Frenchman to create his own street art while Banksy usurps Guetta’s film and turns it into this movie.
The film itself never says whether Guetta’s an actual artist or just some wannabe who tags himself with the majors in order to make a few bucks.
Like Banksy’s street art, there are layers within confusing layers — the film never reveals who the actual cinematographer was or even who wrote the movie. Whether it’s a documentary, a mockumentary or — as some have called it — a prankumentary is neither obvious nor shown.
Instead the film asks the proverbial question “What is art?” and examines Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which suggests that a phenomenon cannot be observed or measured without simultaneously changing it.
Either way, Banksy remains an enigma. He’s there to make us examine and reflect on our own thoughts, choices and ethics in life. (Rated R)