Friday, April 30, 2010

Movie Review: ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’

Indie film takes on
fly-by-night world
of the street artist

So ask yourself:

What is art anyway?

In the world of graffiti, when does vandalism become art?
For that matter, what is art?

These difficult questions are among the unanswerables explored with considerable irreverence in “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” an indie movie opening today in Baltimore and over the next few weeks at a modest number of theaters across the country – and which deserves more than it likely will get.

From its reported acclaim in a Sundance premiere to its almost underground marketing scheme, “Gift Shop” should be getting lots of buzz in coming weeks and much will be made of the questions it raises – even whether its documentary story line is true or invented, a mockumentary.

The story lines are a bit muddled, starting out with Los Angeles fashion entrepreneur and Frenchman Thierry Guetta’s fascination with video – and how he seemed to record every mundane act of urban living within his family and neighborhood.

Eventually, through a street artist cousin known as Space Invader, Guetta expands to recording the fly-by-night world of graffiti artists. A growing connection with the likes of street artist Shepard Fairey (creator of the iconic Obama poster) brings an introduction to the mysterious and reclusive British artist Banksy, and Guetta becomes a co-conspirator in taping him at work.

As his own fame leads to big money in the art world, Banksy asks to see the movie he believes Guetta is creating – and then is shocked, incredulous, at the mess of it all.

And so the tale turns around, as Banksy encourages Guetta to put down the video camera and try his hand at art – and the undisciplined filmmaker himself again becomes the focus of the tale as an untrained artist who at least knows how to think big. Very big. Very bad. Well, some of it, anyway.

Because what is art really is defined by what people believe it to be.

Like art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Guetta calls his resulting show “Life is Beautiful” – and whether or not you think it is art, he’s got that absolutely right.

The film was screened on the eve of its Baltimore opening for an invited audience including Maryland Film Festival members, with an appearance by locally-raised film agent Bart Walker, a partner in Cinetic Media and part of a group formed to market “Exit.” He said they are relying on the audiences of such preview screenings to spread the buzz.

Here’s mine: It’s a hoot and a half. Check it out. But go easy on the spray paint – not everyone has the talent.