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With: Banksy, Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader, Joshua Levine, Rhys Ifans (narrator)
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Banksy
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 86
Date: 01/24/2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Wall Beat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In a year filled with so-called "outrage" documentaries, i.e. documentaries that informed us all about the climate crisis, education crisis, financial crisis, or the war in Iraq, Exit Through the Gift Shop was one of my favorites. To start, it's not an outrage documentary, and it's funny, playful, and intriguing in a way that makes me want to see it again. Most documentaries -- especially "outrage" documentaries -- are not worth much past a first viewing. Even more interestingly, some small controversy has cropped up over the movie's authenticity. However, this does not detract from the movie's power and energy, and only makes it all the more intriguing.

It tells a story so odd that it almost couldn't be true. It begins with Frenchman named Thierry Guetta, who obsessively begins documenting his life with a video camera. The movie hints that he's afraid of missing something and wants to capture absolutely everything on video. Thierry becomes fascinated with his cousin, a famous graffiti artist named "Space Invader," and begins filming the artist's exploits, pasting up signs in the dead of night. From there, Thierry naturally meets other graffiti artists, who, we learn, travel the world to tag international walls with their signature art. Among them is the American Shepard Fairey, who is known for his "Andre the Giant" and "Obey" stickers.

But the king of them all is Banksy, whose identity is so mysterious that no one can get in touch with him. But the very persistent Thierry manages and begins filming Banksy's adventures, including a stunt at Disneyland. And so it goes. Eventually these artists begin to wonder when Thierry's film will be finished, but there's a catch. I won't go any further, except to draw the viewer's attention to the fact that Banksy himself is the credited director of Exit Through the Gift Shop. And there's more. The movie ends with an even more bizarre event.

All of these artists are interviewed on camera, including Thierry, and it's assumed that Banksy himself conducted the interviews, and then interspersed them with Thierry's street footage. However, Banksy appears disguised, in shadow, and with his voice altered. (One has to wonder what happens if he wins an Oscar next year, which will probably never happen given the number of "outrage" docs out there.) It all seems like a huge put-on, but it's so crazy and incredible that we keep waiting, breathlessly, for the next twist in the story. The goofball actor Rhys Ifans reads his narration with a comical urgency that helps.

Above all, though, I actually learned a little about street art, and even if the rest of the documentary is fake, you can't deny that it's interesting. Oscilloscope released the DVD with some fun extras. It comes with Thierry's "cut" of the "film," a featurette about Banksy, deleted scenes, stickers and postcards, and -- best of all -- a pair of 2D glasses to watch the film as it was intended.

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