By: T.R. Slyder, TRSlyder@yahoo.com, @AndyDisco on Twitter
(photos courtesy of the author)
First of all, I didn't know that the dude that was doing the filming was Mr. Brainwash.
Exit Through the Gift Shop came out at my local theater today and I couldn't wait to check it out. What I knew going into it was that it was a documentary of one French guy trying to film my favorite artist Banksy (whose identity is known to only a handful of people in the world and no one in the media) but Banksy turns the tables on him and films him. That didn't seem wildly intriguing, but I was going to see it anyway since it was about Banksy and by Banksy.
It turns out that the turning of the tables catches the infancy of a meteoric rise to art stardom by Thierry, the film maker, who becomes Mr. Brainwash essentially overnight. Banksy is the undisputed king of graffiti art and Shepard Fairey is honorable runner up. They are like the Tony Hawk of graffiti art- unquestionably put it on the map, and by doing so can be construed by the most arduent pursits[read: poor] as selling out.
So what makes this film so interesting is that a decade ago this french dude meets Shephard Fairey and films Fairey putting up his nearly ubiquitous in L.A. Obey Giant posters, and even helps out in the graffiti/street art process. Being that street art is so ephemeral Fairey and his street art cronies become fast friends with this passionate film making guy who could eternalize their slaved-over art with his video camera. They spend so much time, money and effort, not to mention the risk of it being illegal, on their art that it's a shame that they have to put it up at night then run away as fast as they can without having time to stop and admire it. Sometimes their work gets covered up before they get a chance to come back to see it, so having it all documented was awesome for them.
So Thierry, the film maker (who will become Mr. Brainwash) becomes fascinated with this culture and grows to be wildly passionate about capturing important street art being created and installed. He films all the best street artists except the best, Banksy. He tries everywhere to get any info on him he can.
Long (but amusing and fun to watch in the movie) story short, he eventually meets Banksy and Banksy allows him to film him on a few conditions- it's never of Banksy's face (at first) and Banksy will be the owner of all recordings of him (or at least have access to his personal archives). So their mutualistic symbiotic relationship flowers and they become friends. Eventually for some reason Thierry gets the itch to start doing his own art. So he does and it's pretty decent, and his addictive and passionate personality kicks in again and he becomes entranced in his own work, tirelessly tagging buildings and putting up his stickers. The art that Thierry created wasn't blowing away any graffiti purists- it's a bit trite and looks like a guy trying to copy Banksy.
Eventually Banksy suggests that he put on his own show of his art work because if Thierry wasn't around to bug Banksy, Banksy could finally rifle through all the taped footage on his own to make a documentary in peace and quiet. Thierry and Mr. Brainwash, now one and the same, take the advice. To the Nth degree. If N = a lot.
Mr. Brainwash isn't all that adept at creating his own visual art, but his creative mind can churn out ideas with German-like efficiency. It's kinda like a composer composing a Symphony- they may not be able to play all the instruments, but the music essentially comes from them. Another way to think of it would be like a fashion house- Dior or Chanel or Tom Ford. Well, this is an art house called Mr. Brainwash. In order for the artist to combat not being actually artistic, he hires a team of creative kids, maybe art school grads, to execute his plans. They make a freaking crap ton of art in a short while and rent out a huge, huge, huge, huge (15k feet maybe? I forget) abandoned office BUILDING for the show. It's total pop overkill, the likes of which maybe haven't been seen since Warhol was running the show, just pumping out enough artsy widgets to stay famous.
So Mr. Brainwash has the show and it was a huge success, if sorta gaudy to some critics . Huge. He had close to a $1m in sales for a show that lasted three weeks, after being scheduled for only one (or one weekend maybe, I forgot). Now he's sold all over the world, and his prices command a high price point. So he is now one of the very few members of the fraternity of street artists who have officially cashed in from graffiti. However, he hasn't spent a decade illegally honing his craft. He doesn't even make his own art. He just copied his friends' style and now has a ton of notoriety for some reason.
This film would be like if the kid from Almost Famous grew up to be the founding member of Spinal Tap, even though he was still friends with Led Zeppelin and all the guys in Sweetwater (was that their name?). Another analogy I thought of was that maybe that's why Banksy made the documentary about Mr. Brainwash. Originally Banksy was gonna make it about himself, and while he was getting the footage ready (when he told Thierry to just make himself busy by planning a crapass art show) that's when Mr. Brainwash started to blow up. So Banksy made his documentary essentially, then turned it over to being about Mr. Brainwash and the last part is about him, complete with some ribbing about him cashing in already. So the analogy was that maybe this film is Banksy's film version of Tupac's Hit 'em Up, which was the loudest Fuck You to a group of people ever sold on record. I don't think Banksy made this film mean spiritedly, but I'm sure he didn't mind taking a few deserved, and in good fun, jabs at THE Mr. Brainwash.
This film was fast-paced, fucking hilarious, visually arresting with all the awesome art, and a glimpse inside a world I have been DYING to see since learning about Banksy a couple of years ago. I didn't cover every detail of the movie (even though with the length of this posting, I am sure you are surprised) and the stuff I omitted was as dope as the stuff I included (again, that may surprise you if it didn't sound very dope in the first place).
If you like art, this movie will be to you, what Scarface is to black people.
That's how I roll.