Exit Through The Gift Shop
Exit Through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film is a 2010 British documentary film directed by Banksy. It tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, and his obsession with street art. The film charts Guetta‘s constant documenting of his every waking moment on film, from a chance encounter with his cousin, the well-known street artist Invader, to his introduction to a host of street artists with a focus on Shepard Fairey and Banksy, whose anonymity is preserved by obscuring his face and altering his voice, to Guetta‘s eventual fame as a street artist himself (as Mr. Brainwash). It is narrated by Rhys Ifans. The music is by Geoff Barrow.
Before (and in the early days of his art career), Thierry Guetta ran a vintage clothing shop and filmed virtually everything he was doing. While visiting family in his native France, he learns that his cousin is the infamous street artist Invader and, naturally, begins filming his cousin and fellow street artist friends while they throw up pieces at night. This eventually leads Guetta to meet many other artists in the scene, and he ultimately sparks a friendship with Banksy.
Guetta ultimately films Banksy a great deal all over the world, even helping him pull off the Guantanamo Bay stunt at Disney. Guetta wound up getting caught in the process and not only destroyed photographic evidence that would have revealed Banksy’s identity and proof of wrongdoing, but was able to discretely tip Banksy off with a phone call that enabled him to escape without being caught as well. Guetta was even clever enough to stash video of the Guantanamo Bay stunt in his sock so it was not seized, and he and Banksy were able to share it online after Guetta was released. These events led Banksy to trust Guetta implicitly, which is why he allowed Guetta to follow him with a camera around after the stunt. Around this same time, the prices that street art pieces were beginning to achieve at auction led Banksy to encourage Guetta to put all the footage together to create a film to take advantage of the increased interest, hype, and attention street art was garnering.
Banksy was thoroughly underwhelmed with what Guetta put together, calling it “unwatchable” but recognized the footage itself was inherently valuable. He decided to try his own hand at directing, and decided Thierry would be the subject of his film. Banksy encouraged him to create his own art show, and Banksy would film the process. The film follows Thierry as he begins his journey to become an artist himself, ultimately adopting the moniker “Mr. Brainwash.”
Banksy documents the lead up to Guetta‘s first show, “Life is Beautiful”. Early on, it becomes readily apparent that Thierry’s show will be a disaster without intervention and assistance from Banksy. Recognizing this and not wanting to see his friend fail, Banksy sends some of his colleagues to help out. The film shows the confusion and disarray taking place in the production of the show, and Thierry ultimately leaves most of the “art” side of things to Banksy’s people while he focuses his efforts and energy on promoting the show. Preparation is far behind schedule, yet Thierry is as happy as can be doing interviews and generally hyping the show despite the fact that, behind the scenes, even hours before the show is supposed to open there are missing paintings and installations.
Despite the dysfunction, the show is a smashing success and, overnight, Mr. Brainwash is an overnight sensation – much to the surprise of Banksy. In a week, Mr. Brainwash sold nearly a million dollars of art and is gaining international acclaim and buzz.
The Guantanamo Bay Stunt
In 2006, Banksy went to Disneyland and, with the help of Thierry Guetta (Mr. Brainwash), pulled off another one of his installations. In a backpack, he had an inflatable doll dressed in a bright orange, prison coveralls, black gloves, a black mask and, of course, handcuffs. Once inside the amusement park, he inflated the doll near the Rocky Mountain Railroad ride. After the doll had been fully inflated, he discretely placed the prisoner inside the gate near the ride so that as park-goers enjoyed the ride, they were confronted with the imagery of a detainee in an orange jumpsuit in sensory deprivation gear.
The installation was only up for about 90 minutes before Disney security identified it and removed it. Despite it only lasting for a short time, it gained significant traction and was captured in many photographs and videos. It is no coincidence that Banksy chose to install this intentionally uncomfortable, dark piece at “the happiest place on Earth” – yet another fantastic example of how context and the placement of his art is a hugely critical component to the effect of the piece.
Mickey Mouse, the lovable, iconic Disney icon features in his print Napalm which was produced two years earlier. In this piece, Banksy reinvented the Pulitzer Prize-winning image of the 9-year-old girl, fleeing a napalm blast, naked in fear. By wittingly adding alongside two icons of American consumer culture, Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald, the artist creates a sickening juxtaposition with the image of Kim screaming in pain from the napalm burns. Napalm comments not just on the horrors of the Vietnam war, but of the then recent US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The comparison of one of the most provocative and horrifying photographs of war with two symbols of American culture highlights the commodification of war.
The film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on 24 January 2010, and it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Lambeth Palace Screening
After screening at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals, Exit Through the Gift Shop documentary premiered in the UK at a some special screenings in a tunnel underneath the Waterloo train station dubbed Lambeth Palace.
Of course, anything the famous street artist puts on is not a simple affair. The evening came complete with multiple installations like a red carpet painted on the street, his “Paranoid Pictures” logo, animatronics from the “Village Store and Charcoal Grill” pop up show, as well as works from Banksy vs. Bristol Museum.