The story starts with the transformation of a Banksy super-fan Thierry Gietta into a world famous artist over the course of a few weeks. After the fact, I remember seeing his work in a Toronto Yorkville gallery selling for $30,000. Are you kidding me?
This documentary was an introduction into graffiti and street art, something I had not thought too much about, but for which I have been increasing in appreciation over time. Seeing how vandalism has now evolved into fine art world through the case study of Banksy is certainly a hugely humorous elements of the story. He went from being chased by police to having his work sold at top world auctions for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Quite the journey.
The narrative glue of the story is compulsive videographer Thierry who goes from fanboy to participant and chronicler of street artists both in France and L.A. where he runs a clothing business. The genesis of the video is his stockpile of videos of him following street artists. Eventually, he was given an intro to Banksy and started filming a documentary on him, but was utterly incapable of editing it into something that made sense. So Banksy took over. The narrative flipped from Banksy to Thierry as the main character. The story now followed how Thierry morphed into Mr. Brainwash (MBW) - a street artist with celebrity rather than street cred.
MBW launched his career with an official Banksy endorsement, which made his inaugural show in L.A. a smashing success, leading to unbelievable commissions, such as designing a Madonna album cover image. Yet, by the end of the movie, Banksy indicates that he regrets encouraging the career of MBW. Adding to the irony of the situation, it’s unclear if MBW is aware of this slag Thierry’s art career. Just what Thierry understands of his situation appears limited. He carries on with his street art inspired work with a feel-good vibe that is completely contrary to his hero, while aping his style. There have even been suggestions that Thierry’s art career is a prank created by Banksy - which he denies.
Exit Through the Gift Store provides a great introduction and insight into Banksy and his art, stunts, pranks and practice. It’s an epic journey to see someone who started out as a vandal now continuing to offer biting and funny social criticism. How much of it is genuine and how much is he messing with our heads is something we may never fully know
What makes the documentary unique is the Thierry narrative - a mid-stream role reversal between subject and filmmaker.
Engaging, funny, informative and ambiguous. A great introduction into the very public hidden life of Banksy.