Monday, July 26, 2010

"Famous for 15 Minutes, Infamous for 15 More": A Spoiler-Free (TM) Review of "Exit Through the Gift Shop" (2010, dir. by Banksy)

The goal of the "Spoiler-Free" film reviews is to convey the essence of the film, rather than ruin the unfolding of plot and details.

Blame it on the War-ha-haha-ha-hol. (While we're at it, blame Pollack too.) For decades, now, the definition of art has been stretched or down-right scrapped, as multi-colored Marilyns and drip paintings have made many a person (myself included) scoff, "I could do that." (My hometown art museum - The  Speed Art Museum - recently began an exhibit depicting a ten piece portfolio of Warhol's. It's safe to say I could not do that, upon further inspection. I maintain my stance on Pollack.) Warhol, more than anyone, revolutionized the concept of the artist as not just a creator of work, but the artist as a social prophet, a cultural luminary, a force of nature.  As is well known, he quipped that "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." In more recent decades, though, contemporary art has moved from the gallery to the streets (and now, back to the gallery).  You've probably heard of Banksy and his daring "tags" of thought provoking art in public, even dangerous places.  You've most definitely seen Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous "Obey" Andre the Giant posters and his iconic blue and red portrait of Obama, ("Hope" emblazoned below).  You may have not heard of Mr. Brainwash.

Seeing as much street art is technically vandalism (combined with trespass and occaisonal breaking/entering), Banksy has only enhanced his legend by closely protecting his anonymity.  So, when a French ex-pat Angelino - Thierry Guetta - began to include him in a documentary, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that Banksy turns the cameras back on him.  Exit Through the Gift Shop chronicles the chronicling of an uneasy movement of art.  Banksy directs the work, keeping his own face hidden in shadow and his voice modulated. Having just seen the marvelous Inception last week, I thought I had seen my last mental mind-bender for the summer.  Watching Exit has left me with a stunning number of questions to be answered.

I walked into Exit thinking I was going to watch a film depicting the exploits of one of my favorite contemporary artists. I got something totally else entirely.  The once-great MGM had emblazoned on their crest, Ars Gratia Artis - "Art for Art's Sake." The art of the film has led some to question its authenticity, and Roger Ebert and Ty Burr of The Boston Globe have delved into those questions.  I think it is, but would point you back to my most recent Spoiler-Free review, which was also on a documentary - The New Sudan -  for some concluding thoughts on the strange world of documentaries. There I wrote: "Documentaries are artistic conveyances of an issue - they are not true "news" reporting.  Some strive for objectivity more than others, yes, but in the end, you are seeing this situation through the eyes of the auteur - namely the director." The mysterious Banksy has left us a mystery. Who dunnit?

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