The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

An expedition into foreign territory

with 17 comments

The vast majority of my movie reviews are enthusiastic, ending up in 4/5 ratings. I’m probably playing it safe most of the time, being cheap about my spare time and money. I spend it on movies I believe I’m going to like, either because it’s my kind of movie, a director I know about or because someone whose judgement I trust has recommended it.

But remaining in your comfort zone all the time doesn’t give you all that many new experiences. Sometimes we have to overcome our natural resistance and fight our way out of it. And that’s how it came that I decided to give Exit Through the Gift Shop a chance.

A documentary about a French guy who decides to make a film about street artists, but who eventually becomes the subject for the documentary – it sounded like the worst topic ever to me.

Couldn’t stop
I knew nothing about street art and couldn’t name one of the people involved in it – not even that “Banksy” guy, who obviously was a bit of a celebrity in a world I don’t belong to. I’ve never cared for hip hop music (which I associate to street art, right or wrong) and I find most graffiti annoying, tags being the human equivalence of dog pee. You do it to mark your territory and you don’t give a damned about that others think it stinks.

This was an expedition into foreign territory and I expected to become bored and alienated, not “getting it”. But I ignored the gut feeling, dismissing it as “prejudices” and trudged on. My instincts had proven me wrong before. And this turned out to be the case here too.

You see, I had an absolute blast.

I started my watching way too late in the evening, and the only sensible thing would have been to stop midway, saving the rest for the next day. But I couldn’t. I was so fascinated and amused that I simply “had to” watch it to the end.  And once I had finished it I thought to myself: “Wow! This was fun! I’d love to watch this again!” I can’t remember last time that happened.

Meta and post
On one level you can watch Exit Through the Gift Shop as a commentary movie about what constitutes “real” art, about commercialism and about a bunch of “meta” and “post” aspects, the kind of questions you can spend entire nights debating over if you want to feel clever or escape from your studies. The fact that you’re not entirely sure whether this really IS a documentary, or if Thierry Guetta, the French film maker, later to become “Mr Brainwash”, in fact is a hoax is also something you can dwell on if you like. Thinking about those questions is like being in a house of mirrors. It’s intriguing, but after a while you get lost.

On another level, it’s just a damned funny movie. There’s something about Guetta that reminds me of George Costanza (a little bit more successful than the original) and I guess that’s why it’s somewhat hard to believe the guy is for real. It’s too good to be true.

However, fake or not, it doesn’t really matter. Guetta’s weird personality, the well put comments of Banksy’s and the dry, witty narrative by Rhys Ifans makes wonderful combination that kept me hooked all the way through.

My expedition into foreign territory is over for this time. I was thoroughly entertained, even thrilled. And as a bonus I got a basic education about this world. Now I know who Banksy is. And I can acknowledge the difference between street art and dog pee.

But my disdain for tags remains.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2011) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

September 6, 2011 at 1:00 am

17 Responses

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  1. I was a bit skeptical about this film but after watching it, it’s in my top 5 films of 2010 (which remains unreleased for the time being). I had a blast watching it while being immersed into a culture that I never really knew about. That’s what great documentaries do, take you into a world that you don’t know about and suddenly fall in love with it. That’s what happened when I went to see Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. Before that film, I was just a casual admirer of the band Rush but after watching the documentary. I became a fan. That’s what a doc should do. Stray away from whatever comfort zone people have and take risks.

    Steven Flores

    September 6, 2011 at 1:16 am

    • Yes, this movie reminded me of that I watch far too few documentaries. I haven’t seen that documentary about Rush, but if I ever run into it I’ll give it a shot after your recommendation, even though I must admit that I only recognize the name “Rush” but couldn’t name a single song by this band. I have no idea of who they are.


      September 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

      • Rush is a Canadian progressive-hard rock power trio that’s been around since 1974 and still going strong.

        Classic albums like 2112, Permanent Waves, and Moving Pictures has defined their careers along with songs like “Working Man”, “Fly By Night”, “Closer to the Heart”, “The Spirit of Radio”, “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight”, and “Subdivisions” that are classic rock staples.

        Recently, they’ve been riding a wave of pop culture through their appearance on the Colbert Show and in the movie I Love You, Man. It’s OK if you couldn’t get into them because in the documentary, a lot of the musicians who are fans of the group like the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins says “Chicks don’t dig them man. I don’t play Caress of Steel very often whenever my wife’s around”.

        Steven Flores

        September 6, 2011 at 9:15 pm

        • I just looked them up at Youtube and tbh, no, it’s not quite my kind of music. I doubt it’s because of my gender though tbh. It’s a little bit too soft for my taste, too little rock’n’roll. 😉


          September 6, 2011 at 10:59 pm

  2. HAHA I am glad you got to see this one Jessica, I really enjoyed it a lot. Life imitating art imitating life and all that Jazz. That Banksy is a real cheeky fellow!!

    I am still hold the idea that BANKSY is actually a group of artists. I find it impossible that one person could become so infamous and BIG worldwide and stay hidden. If it was a group, the identity would be easier to hide….just my thoughts.

    Thanks for putting this together a really good read!!

    Scott Lawlor

    September 6, 2011 at 7:51 am

    • Cheeky is the word. A group – yes, maybe. Or it could be someone who just has a very big following, with a ton of willing helpers. And what to make of the French fellow? An actor and a part of a gigantic hoax? Or for real? Actually it doesn’t matter very much either way. I was entertained and that was what mattered.


      September 6, 2011 at 7:58 am

  3. I, too, was surprised by Exit Through the Giftshop – mainly about how awesome it was. I had been getting bored of Banksy by the point this film came out, and even though I didn’t check it out in the cinema, it was shown on TV about a month ago, and I was shocked at how much I loved it. Such a great film.

    I love street art (and hip-hop too), but though they stemmed from the same place, they have taken different roads over the years and have become separate entities.

    Genuinely surprised about you not knowing Banksy, though! I thought he was a worldwide phenomenon!


    September 6, 2011 at 9:39 am

    • “Genuinely surprised about you not knowing Banksy, though! I thought he was a worldwide phenomenon!”

      Me too. Honestly I’m a bit embarrassed about my ignorance. I must have been living under a rock the last few years. 😦

      And isn’t it nice to get surprised at a movie once in a while? This probably is the biggest positive surprise, giving me the sense of discovery, this year.


      September 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm

  4. You reminded me that I still had to see (got some amazing reviews) it and I just did. It’s as good as I expected it to be.

    I find the whole “is this real?” question very interesting. Is Mr Brainwash just a straw-man for Banksy? Some of those works look like they’re cheap on purpose to me. Plus the line “five minutes of work et voila: $10.000” is hilarious because it sums up what I’m thinking about much of the modern art.

    It also reminded me of Men on Wire. It’s about a man who wants to rope dance between the twin towers. Quite illegal too but just as driven.


    September 6, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    • Oh, that’s wonderful! I’m so glad if I could help you to get around to finally watch it. I have no idea if Mr Brainwash is for real or not. I’m leaning towards the hoax theory, but it really doesn’t matter all that much.

      I haven’t seen Men on Wire. I recently checked if my library had it, but unfortunately it seems as if they don’t. 😦


      September 6, 2011 at 11:02 pm

      • “Man on Wire” is a quite good and entertaining documentary about a frenchman who put up a wire between the twin towers, and walked – Man on wire.

        It’s not as great as “Exit through the gift shop”, but well woth a watch if you like quirky documentaries.


        September 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm

        • I need to watch that one, even if I’ve always had mixed feelings about watching people walking on wires without safety nets.


          September 19, 2011 at 8:18 pm

  5. I’m glad you enjoyed this one Jessica. I have seen it twice, and I was glued throughout both times. Considering this foreign world and just how cool it was portrayed, the ideas of consumerism and celebrity and what constitutes an artist, in addition to the peculiarities surrounding Thierry’s rise to fame, this is damn fun cinema. One of my top from 2010 also.

    Andrew Buckle

    September 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    • Yes, it’s funny and thoughtprovoking at the same time. I talked so enthusiastically about it at home that I convinced my 17 year old to watch it as well and she loved it too, even if she like me didn’t have any particular interest for street art before seeing it.


      September 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm

  6. […] Velvet Café har skrivit alldeles föredömligt om filmen här , liksom Fripp och Banksy´s helsköna hemsida hittar du här. Där finns mycket av […]

  7. Great review Jessica. It’s another one we seem to agree on. My review is a little rusty but I still think I got my point across. Have a look when you get a chance..

    Mark Walker

    April 27, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    • Thank you so much! Your review wasn’t rusty at all. I loved it!


      April 27, 2012 at 11:07 pm

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