Exit Through the Gift Shop
d. Banksy / UK / 2010 / 87 mins
Viewed at: Cinema 3 @ Barbican (London, UK)
What can I say, this film is a massive crock of shit! Putting aside the fact that the entire premise is a complete and utter fabrication (in one sense or another), this film is rubbish in almost every regard, from its whole narrative basis, to its shoddy method of construction.
As it makes its way around the world, I’m getting increasingly tired of seeing Exit Through the Gift Shop being described as ‘hilarious’ and ‘genius’, mostly because, well, it just isn’t either of those things. Whilst there are undoubtedly a handful of cuckle-worthy moments, the whole experience of this film was, for me at least, tedious at best.
Things start off promisingly enough, as the introductory segment gives a brief survey of leading street artists from around the world in a manner which is both interesting and engaging. What follows, however, taking up the final two thirds of the film, is a bland, interminable, overwrought riff on the commodification of street art and the supposedly fickle (and gullible) masses that lap it up, from the high flyers of contemporary art to the hip kid on the street.
Problem is, this idea of foolish idiots buying blindly into the vagrancies of modern and contemporary art with nary a clue of what is worthwhile and what is trash, is nothing even remotely new. And as a joke, it never really was funny, and certainly isn’t in this instance.
What’s more, I really struggled to find any redeeming features within this film (aside, perhaps, from the general stuff at the start) largely because is is just so totally and utterly one-note, and because the humour is just so completely superficial and rarely, if ever, shows any real subtlety. Although, for whatever reason, I seem to be the one of the very few people who see it that way.
I know there are all sorts of debates raging online about this film, and one of them – undoubtedly – is about the relationship between Banksy and Shepard Fairey. It’s certainly an interesting pairing, especially when you consider that Banksy goes to so much trouble to conceal his identity/s whilst Fairey is at the complete opposite end of the whole street art fame and recognition spectrum, designing posters for Obama and generally whoring himself all over the place. Then again, perhaps the anonymity of Banksy is simply a clever marketing ploy?
And if the film is intended as some kind of dig at the art establishment going ga-ga over street art, as well as at the increasing commodification of what was once a purely ephemeral artform (and one which remains so for many street artists), it is pretty darn rich coming from Banksy. His comment in the film about wanting to ‘set the record straight’ and ‘dispel the hype’ via the creation of this film is yet another layer of unsubtle irony. Isn’t it?
But don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Banksy (hey, I’m no Charlie Brooker) – I just thought Exit Through the Gift Shop was pants. A giant pile of overrated pants.