Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary by French filmmaker/obsessive filming hobbyist Thierry Guetta about Banksy and the street art scene, unless it's a documentary by Banksy about Thierry Guetta. It's one of those movies.
Guetta carries a camera wherever he goes and films everything. When he discovers that his cousin is the street artist Space Invader, he becomes the unofficial documentarian of the rising street art movement, meeting and accompanying prominent artists like Shepard Fairey. He eventually sets his sights on the most famous and elusive street artist of all: Banksy. But everything turns around when Banksy inspires him to become a street artist himself under the name Mr. Brainwash.
On the surface, the film appears as a relatively straightforward documentary about street art and Guetta's search for Banksy, but as the film goes on, its framing starts to slowly shift, with points like the what the documentary is actually about and whether any of it is actually real becoming more pertinent. Often compared to F for Fake, Exit Through the Gift Shop is likewise a very "meta" exploration on the definition of art and artistry, with its own unique takes on iconography, creative inspiration, and the facetiousness of it all.
The film's official website is here.
Exit Through the Gift Shop provides examples of:
- Art Imitates Art: Mr. Brainwash's art is exclusively created by combining pre-existing images. His general style is accused of being derivative of other street artists.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Space Invader, Mr. Brainwash, etc.
- Buffy Speak: Guetta lacks the vocabulary to describe Banksy.
- Camera Fiend: Thierry films absolutely everything. At one point it shows that hundreds of unmarked tapes that he's filmed over the years.
- Elephant in the Living Room: Banksy's exhibit features a literal elephant in a living room.
- The Faceless: Banksy, Space Invader, and several other artists do not allow their faces to be filmed.
- Le Parkour: In the opening credits, a teenager jumps onto a roof to, apparently successfully, evade two cops.
- Mind Screw: Guetta claims to be making a documentary about Banksy and other street artists, but he's really just filming mindlessly because he just loves to film street artists. Then he finally does make a documentary of sorts, which he calls Life Remote Control, and it's terrible, so Banksy ends up making his own film about Guetta. Or it's all a hoax and everyone involved is screwing with the audience to make a point. We will probably never know.
- Mockumentary: Possibly. One of the most common theories of the film on a meta level is that it's secretly a work entirely directed by Banksy, and Guetta/Mr. Brainwash is (at least how he's presented in the film) merely a character devised by him, used as a stand-in for the archetypal everyman and potential "artist" in the audience. This is made a little muddy since Guetta/Mr. Brainwash actually exists as an artist who continues to operate well after this film, but who's to say that's not all an act as well?
- Phoney Call: After the Disneyland prank, Banksy calls Guetta and figures it's time to leave when Guetta replies as if he's talking to his wife. Guetta is already in park custody when he takes the call.
- Reclusive Artist: Invoked in-universe; Banksy is hard to get in touch with and hides his identity.
- Rodents of Unusual Size: Wharf rats are a recurring motif in Banksy's art.
- Self-Deprecation: Early in the film, a masked figure who is identified as Banksy says "This was supposed to be a film about me, but I'm pretty boring so we decided to make a film about Thierry instead."
- Sliding Scale of Law Enforcement: Nearer to the negative end, for obvious reasons.
- Small Name, Big Ego: It takes no time at all for Thierry to let his initial success go to his head, to the point that he nearly sabotages his own premiere because he keeps blowing off the actual hanging of the pictures so that he can give interviews.
- Spiritual Successor: Some consider this film to be a successor to F for Fake. Like ETTGS, it is a documentary assembled largely through found footage that analyzes the nature of art.
- Stylistic Suck: Life Remote Control (assuming Exit Through the Gift Shop is indeed a mockumentary).
- Switching P.O.V.: A rare case where it ends up affecting the nature of the film on a metatextual level. The documentary starts out appearing as following Guetta's dive into street art culture and Banksy, but once he becomes Mr. Brainwash, this starts to get muddy as his portrayal becomes less sympathetic, and by the ending, the POV has shifted to Banksy and Shepard Fairey trying to wrangle in the arrogant hack they've indirectly created.
- Take That!: Most of Banksy's work.
- Thematic Theme Tune: Richard Hawley's "Tonight The Streets Are Ours" isn't literally about street art, but rather about creative sterility. And of course, there's the chorus.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The epilogue informs about current activities of major characters.
- Wild Hair: Guetta.