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                Exit Through the Gift Shop is a lively, enjoyable and fascinating documentary  created about street art and artists by one of its most mysterious and talented artists, Bansky.  The film is broken down into two parts.  The first part involves video-obsessed LA shop keeper, Thierry Guetta who has been video taping every aspect of his life for decades up to the point when the film begins.  Quite by accident he becomes involved with street artists and is soon following the ones he knows with his camera. The artists are fascinating, near-heroic figures with names like Space Invader and Zeus. We are given ring-side seats to the genesis of the LA artist Shepard Faireys’ career turning point. We see Fairey go from guerrilla street artist to international star thanks to Thierry’s ever present camera.  Fairey is the artist responsible for the now iconic Barack Obama poster and for his stickers featuring Andre the Giant’s face and the word “obey”.   Fairey’s works now hang in museums rather than on museums and fetch in the tens of thousands dollars each. Soon Thierry grows weary of the circle of artists he knows and looks to be able to meet and video tape the most popular, talented and elusive of all the street artists in the world.  A man who goes by the name of Bansky.

            By the time Thierry begins his quest to find and video tape Banksy in action, the artist has already established an international reputation for being very talented and able to place his art in places no other artist ever thought of or could achieve.  Most famously Bansky painted images on the wall separating Israel from the West Bank and reconfigured a British call box for his own purposes. Eventually, after many falses starts, Thierry serenditously gets to meet Bansky and the two hit it off.  Without spoiling how the switch to the second half of the documentary happens, we see the movie being taken over by Bansky himself who expresses a desire to give film making a go while at the same time suggesting that Thierry becomes a street artist himself. Here is where the shady part begins and you either feel you are being punked by Bansky or this is a straight up documentation of Thierry’s transformation from videographer to international street art start named rather clumsily, “Mr. Brain Wash” or just the self important, cryptic, “MBW”.

                While the first part of the film is entertaining with its nuts and bolts approach to filming the street art process and getting into the minds of two of the movement’s leading artists; the second half of the film is a magical mix of hilarious satire and biting commentary on the intangible value of art and what constitutes good or bad art.  It’s totally delightful to watch Thierry as he blossoms into an international sensation on the backs of an army of hired prop artists, set designers and event coordinators.  The art is a mashup of all the street art styles we’ve seen Thierry documenting in the first half of the film.   Thierry, through a preternatural talent for hype, skips all the years of perfecting his craft and developing a style and moves directly on to the big splashy shows and the high dollar product.  Whatever may be said about Thierry’s (AKA “MBW’s”) art, his career path is a primer for how to use hype, bullshit and guts to gain success when actual talent may not serve.  As the film ends there is ambiguity injected into Thierry’s career and one gets the sense that the whole Thierry-as-artist thing may be a fabrication totally made up through collaboration between Thierry and Bansky.  A sort of prank pulled on the entire art loving world with the result being that Thierry, who exhibits up to this point, little in the way of artistic temperament or talent, becoming a new art star on the scene fetching fifty thousand dollars or more for his work and getting commissions from the likes of Madonna and Brad Pitt. The film is both a gift and a practical joke from Bansky, who we never get to see or hear even though he is the central driving force of the film.  Its fascinating to see footage of art collectors proudly showing off their MBW works hanging in their mansions juxtaposed with footage of Thierry being pushed in a wheel chair dribbling pots of paint on a huge line of identical stenciled pictures arranged on the floor of a giant warehouse full of art in LA.  Years ago I had a friend who’s mother and father both made their living from art.  She had a t-shirt that she wore all the time with a logo on the front that said simply “Art for Money”.  It used to make me mad that she had that attitude, but now after seeing “Exit Through the gift Shop” I finally see the humor and the irony.  And it’s damned good.  See this film if you love art.  See this film if you don’t.   Both sides will be totally entertained and satisfied.