Sunday, January 2, 2011

210) Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

210) Exit Through the Git Shop (2010) Dir: Banksy Date Released: April 2010 Date Seen: June 26, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

Banksy's fauxcumentary goes down ok--the "street art" world it's depicting is pretty fascinating, mostly because the neurotic artists depicted and their work are--but I find it to be pretty pointless. Real, fake, either way you slice it the thing leads to a dead end of smart-ass discourse. It's a rhetorical argument that leads to two doors, behind which are two brick walls. Choose your own solipsism but whichever door you choose, the writing on either wall's going to be the same (I'm still not sure if this image sucks or is completely brilliant; I'll err on the side of pretension and keep it).

Door #1: The film is not a hoax and Banksy did not invent the personality of Thierry Guetta, who he wants us to see as a total rip-off artist. If we value this interpretation, then it's because we sympathize with Banksy's point of view, which is basically: Guetta's art is unoriginal and hence the nadir of street art because it's trying to scam people of money Guetta doesn't deserve. 

This interpretation assumes that Guetta wasted the time of a bunch of street artists when he asked to follow them around, obsessively filming them. Banksy assumes that we'll side with him and agree that it's suspicious that Guetta didn't make a film until finally pressed to make what is, according to our unreliable narrator, an unwatchable film, and the fact that Brainwash made art so similar to Banksy's peers immediately means that Guetta stole from the people he filmed.

Sorry but I don't buy it. 

That's mostly because, if this interpretation is valid and I now tend to think it is, Banksy's just jealous. I think Brainwash's art is superior to Banksy's, if anything. Brainwash is making fun of Banksy and his colleagues, to my mind. Ignore Guetta's enthusiasm, his onscreen persona, etc. and just look at the art: Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup can as a spray can and a connect-the-dots portrait of Andy himself poke fun of the fact that Banksy is the next step in the deification and commercialization of the pop art movement. Brainwash can produce infinite copies of his work and that's the joke: Banksy's revolution will be televised, merchandised and sold out. It's no longer a happening scene, it's just a nice way to sell yourself.

Door #2: It's not a hoax and it's a complex convoluted rhetorical argument that again, confuses the issue for the sake of protecting Banksy's ego. In making this scenario, Banksy can incriminate a straw man like Brainwash and ignore the hypocritical schism between the fact that he himself accepted millions of Pounds from celebrities for his art when it went to auction at Sotheby's and the fact that he's always making fun of the capitalist system of reproduction in his art. 

If Banksy really had a problem with the concept of commercial art, as he suggests when he says that he objects to the fact that Brainwash/Guetta can reproduce derivative art /and/ (and this "and" is the important part) make lotso money from it, didn't the street art movement to become commercial, then he should criticize himself for taking the money of people that don't "get" his art. What makes the celebrities that took Banksy's art and, in exchange, made him rich so much more enlightened. Hell, what do the critics that praise Exit Through the Gift Shop for being a thoughtful treatise on the nature of art in the age of mechanical reproduction know that I don't? I don't see Banksy looking at himself critically or at all even in the film. He excuses himself by hiding his identity and trying his damnedest to look like an unreliable narrator wearing this black, fuzzed-out hoody in a poorly lit torture chamber basement (Eli Roth is probably renting the place out and filming Hostel 3 right behind him). Banksy's wagging finger does not come back to point at him directly and that's the film's biggest failing.

Pretension heaped on pretension. Pretty for a while but so what?

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