Most people, even those who don’t know anything about art, will have heard of Banksy. The street artist extraordinaire makes a typically confident film debut with Exit Through The Gift Shop, a bizarre documentary about a particularly bizarre man. To many people’s surprise, that man is not Banksy himself, though he does feature throughout the film; he actually comes across as a perfectly sane chap. The film is actually about an interesting creature by the name of Mr. Brainwash…
Mr. Brainwash is the alias of Thierry Guetta, a French emigré living in Los Angeles. Guetta is a man with a strange habit; he would film everything he did, everywhere he went, all the time. We meet him in 1999, when he owned a bohemian boutique in LA. Footage from his camera at the time reveals the extent of Guetta’s all-encompassing and bizarre hobby. We cut from a chance meeting with Shaquille O’Neal to Guetta brushing his teeth to scenes from his store. This intimacy and variety of this footage does little to dispel the idea that Guetta has some kind of problem, since he feels compelled to film everything. Throughout Exit Through The Gift Shop, we get many sides of Guetta. He flits from charming to childish to exuberant to egotistical and back again. However, that rollercoaster of personality is matched by his personal story. Through his cousin, a street artist named ‘Space Invader’, Guetta decided to document the street artists whose popularity was growing to match their apparent ubiquity. Despite successfully meeting many artists, Guetta fails to find the elusive Banksy. Chance brings them together, and Guetta has the final element he feels he needs for his arty little flick. Interviews with Shepard Fairey (yes, that Shepard Fairey) and other artists reveal their bemusement with this peculiar Frenchman.
However, when post-production on the street art film begins, Exit Through The Gift Shop changes tack as Guetta sets about editing his thousands of hours of footage down to feature length. Of course, he never intended to actually make a feature, and the result of his editing, named Life Remote Control, is a mess, resembling the trailer for Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake. From this point, Banksy takes over. His fascination with Guetta means the focus shifts from the street artists to him. To help occupy him whilst editing, Banksy suggests to Guetta that he try producing his own art. The rest is history, as six months later Guetta launches his own gallery of street art under his new name Mr. Brainwash. The process of setting up the gallery provides excellent material for the final act of the film. We watch Guetta create his works and build up the hype, becoming a celebrity before the gallery even opens. If it all seems too good to be true, it’s only because Guetta’s devil-may-care attitude allowed him to do what he did. Exit Through The Gift Shop may raise as many questions as answers (a follow-up should see Guetta be psychoanalyzed!), but Banksy’s enthusiasm for this most extraordinary of men is never in doubt. Artistic temperament or obsession-compulsion? You decide