Reclusive artist turns the tables on amateur director in documentary

Banksy, one of today’s most alluring and enigmatic artists, brings his creativity to a new outlet with the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.

The Ray Stark Family Theatre bustled with conversation Tuesday night as students prepared for Banksy’s directorial debut. The intimate, forest-green theatre was filled to the brim.

Among the attendants were Jaimie D’Cruz, the film’s producer, Chris King, one of the film’s editors, and surprise guest and promoter, Roger Gastman. The three guests had a question and answer session at the end of the film screening.

Banksy opens the documentary with the introduction of the star: Thierry Guetta, the crazy-but-lovable Frenchman with an unhealthy penchant for video recording — Guetta literally films everything.

Guetta’s filming obsession serves as the audience’s mechanism to peer into a unique art form, and as the vehicle to Guetta’s ultimate success, tracked slowly throughout the film.

Guetta incessantly chronicled the adventures of artists in France, England and Los Angeles with the intent of creating a documentary about street art.

In Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy includes a tease of what Guetta’s first rough cut, Life Remote Control, looked like, to give the audience an idea of Guetta’s filmmaking skills.  Guetta’s final product was a superfluous disaster, riddled with meaningless clips of nonsensical images and terrifying music that he believes to be self-proclaimed genius.

Banksy, the guerilla-artist-turned-director, turns the tables on Guetta. Banksy uses Guetta as a puppet-recorder to produce his own meaningful documentary on the mystifying, underground world that is street art, as well as the nature of artists themselves. Banksy tells his story through Guetta and his relationships with various urban art legends.

Interviewed under the concealing darkness of a hoodie and a disguised voice, the elusive Banksy maintains his anonymity, while explaining an art form that has been under the mainstream radar for decades, to the audience.

Banksy sifts through countless hours of Guetta’s footage to strategically compile a provocative collage of street art production. The film is rich with scenes of Guetta accompanying artists on their journey deep into the night to make their art; the scenes give the audience an accurate feel for the excitement and pressing legal issues behind the guerilla artistry.

Guetta often climbs to the tops of buildings, scaffoldings and other structures in order to capture the vantage point for his documentary. Luckily for Banksy, Guetta’s footage with legendary artists Space Invader, Mr. André, Shepard Fairey, Seizer, Neckface, Borf and Buffmonster is phenomenal.

Banksy has Welsh actor Rhys Ifans use a monotonous, omniscient voice to narrate Guetta’s journey throughout the street art world. The narration, in conjunction with artist interviews, provides the audience with a succinct storyline that is easy to follow but still enticing to watch.

However, the film is not just a conventional documentary about the thrilling conquests of guerilla artists. It also displays the transformation of Guetta himself from a neophyte filmmaker to a successful street artist.

Guetta, under the pseudonym Mr. Brainwash, helps propel the world of street art into the mainstream with the production of his first art show, “Life Is Beautiful”. Guetta sells out in an instant, and his success in the street art world is unprecedented.

Guetta’s complete metamorphosis, revealed at the end of the documentary, begs the audience to ask the question: Who is Banksy’s joke really on? Is there a moral to Banksy’s documentary?

After the screening was over, the panel of guests was beckoned to the front of the theater for discussion.

King informed the audience that the film started as a conventional street art documentary; however, with Guetta’s quirky filming habits and characteristics, the crew soon realized this was impossible. What evolved from the hours of Guetta’s tape was the intriguing story about the crazy Frenchman himself.

When the panelists was asked what they thought about the film, Gastman called it a comedy show in and of itself.”

The physical and personal idiosyncrasies of Guetta are so different and lovable that it is hard to watch the film and not laugh. Everything — from Guetta’s anachronistic facial hair and vocal tics — serves as comedic gold throughout the film.

D’Cruz elaborated by noting that there was a dichotomy between people’s reactions to Guetta’s success as a street artist: Some people were excited for him, saying that he did well and was living the American Dream; others, however, were furious, saying that Guetta had “manufactured” art by copying the legends he had filmed and gotten away with a terrible heist.

Whichever way one decides to look at it, one thing is for certain: the success of Mr. Brainwash is all thanks to one person, Guetta himself.  Gastman pointed out that if it were not for the way Guetta looked and acted, the results would not have been the same.

The panel led an intriguing discussion that was highlighted by interesting news: Mr. Brainwash has an art show in New York.

Whomever Exit Through The Gift Shop’s joke is on, both Mr. Brainwash and Banksy seem to be confidently moving forward with their work. As a film, Exit Through the Gift Shop successfully captures the mystifying world of street art on tape, and also supplies the viewer with food for thought. Thanks, Banksy.