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Exit Through the Gift Shop (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 87 minutes.

OK for children. This is an odd film about an odd guy. It started out to be a film about street artist Banksy by Thierry Gueta a Frenchman who ran a women’s clothing store in Los Angeles. Gueta bought a video camera and started taking videos of everything he did, eventually concentrating on street art.

Gueta had hundreds of thousands of feet of film, so Banksy was going to cooperate with him in making the film. But then Banksy found that the film Gueta had was mostly unusable and he says in the film that he came to the conclusion that Gueta might just be “someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera.” So, ostensibly, Banksy did a reversal, took over the direction, and made a film about Gueta. I say ostensibly because there is some speculation that the entire film is a hoax instigated by Banksy, whose real identity has never been revealed.

There are interviews with Gueta, who has taken the name Mr. Brainwash. There are also interviews with Banksy, who is always shrouded in a hooded sweatshirt with his face completely in shadows. Lots of the film is about an exhibition Gueta gave at the old KNXT (CBS) TV studio on Sunset Boulevard (called “Life is Beautiful”), that, according to the film, drew thousands of fans and raised over a million dollars in sales of Mr. Brainwash’s junk art. Well, some people apparently don’t think it’s junk because Madonna apparently commissioned him to create the artwork for her “Celebration” album, and his poster during the 2008 Presidential campaign of Barrack Obama as Superman became quite famous.

It’s hard to believe that this guy could create this kind of art, which is what leads to the speculation that this is all a huge hoax engineered by the mysterious Banksy. Banksy’s art, for what it’s worth, sells for big bucks at exhibitions.

Is this film a satire on the gullibility of people paying huge sums of money for ugly junk? Andy Warhol’s idea was to show the world the absurdity and meaningless of art, and people lined up to pay huge amounts of money for things like a painting of a can of soup. If the point of this film is intended to be a satire on that, the result was that the same people who would pay for the can of soup painting will pay for the junk Mr. Brainwash allegedly created.

The film leaves one with many questions, just one of which is, is Thierry Gueta really Banksy? If not, did Banksy do all the art claimed by Mr. Brainwash? How could a person like Gueta create a persona like Mr. Brainwash and come up with all the art exhibited at “Life is Beautiful?” Where did he get the money to finance the renting of this huge location and to hire all the people he did to put it on and promote it? Banksy probably could have afforded it, but it’s unlikely that Gueta could have. So if Banksy financed it, why?

Questions abound, but the bottom line is that Banksy is probably laughing all the way to the Bank. Regardless of the verisimilitude of the film, it is risible and highly entertaining.