This film came as a recommendation to my friend who’s a very fine illustrator. (You can check out her web comic here. And her art blog here.) I happened to be present at the conversation, and being a fan of most things pop culture, I figured I’d give it a watch.
Exit Through The Gift Shop is a documentary of sorts about street art—sometimes known as graffiti. It’s available on Netflix and for purchase on iTunes. Description from IMDB.com:
The story of how an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur film maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. The film contains footage of Banksy, Shephard Fairey, Invader and many of the world’s most infamous graffiti artists at work.
For those who don’t know, Banksy is this big street artist, mostly in London, but he travels to different parts of the world. He even did some “street art” on the West Bank wall that caught him quite a lot of attention. Banksy likes his anonymity, so prior to the French filmmaker, the most contact anyone had with him was cleaning up his art.
Shephard Fairey if you haven’t heard of, well, you still likely know his art. He’s responsible for the picture on the left there. And a lot for his “Obey” art featuring an illustration of Andre the Giant.
The French wanna-be filmmaker, Thierry, his connection with this street art world is his cousin is the street artist Invader. Through his cousin, he gets introduced to loads of street artists, hoping that somehow it will culminate in meeting the biggie, Banksy himself.
I realize I probably have a different opinion than most, and I’m not saying that most of these guys have talent, but there’s still the big part of me that screamed through most of the film: you’re damaging someone else’s property. Period. Maybe it comes from having things stolen from me before or more especially having a car window busted out, but replacing stuff like that costs a lot of hard-earned cash—much of which the State and the Fed take their fair share of, and I don’t appreciate these clowns costing me more money, no matter how “pure art” they believe they are.
Ahem. Now back to our regularly scheduled content.
Anyway, once I was able to set aside my, “thanks for wasting my tax dollars chumps,” I saw something else in the movie I found fascinating. You may be wondering why watch it in the first place? I think documentaries are a fantastic way to explore cultures and subcultures and really see why people live the way they do. I may agree with them, I may disagree with them, but I find them valuable all the same.
But back to the fascinating point. So after Thierry meets Banksy and films him for a significant amount of time, Banksy tells Thierry it’s time for him to make the street art documentary he’s told everyone is the whole purpose he’s been making this film in the first place.
And it’s complete crap.
Oh, Banksy admits, I guess just because he’s filming doesn’t mean he’s any kind of filmmaker. Duh… Bansky sends Thierry on a distraction mission so he can edit the footage, he says, though I suspect he brought on help (and it becomes what you’re currently watching). But the fascinating irony comes in Thierry’s mission.
Thierry essentially rips off all the street artists he’s been around, plus Andy Warhol, plus anything and everything else he’s encountered to make his art. Oh, but it goes further than that. He hires people because he’s not actually an artist himself to do the work for him and takes all the cred. Basically it’s like he told DaVinci to paint a picture of his good friend Mona Lisa and then takes the painting and says, isn’t this wonderful art I’ve created?
He takes all his “art” and puts on this exhibition in L.A., naming himself Mr. Brainwash—the new le artiste. Why Mr. Brainwash? He believes art is brainwashing, which is ironic on so many levels in this movie it’s astounding, but even more hilarious that thousands of people turn up for his exhibition, making him a cool $1 million. Hey, tell me there isn’t a better crowd for brainwashing than Los Angeles art hipsters?
The rest of the movie the other street artists spend subtly lamenting the monster they’ve created. Bansky swears off encouraging any up-and-coming street artists again. I thought it brilliant when they had to take a long, hard look in the mirror that was Mr. Brainwash and really decide what they were doing this for.
All of that brings me to the more important question for those of us writers out there. It’s a little like something my friend Brian was lamenting about not so long ago, but I think all stems from the same source. What are we in this writing business for?
Is it to make money and gain fame? Watch how easily Thierry goes from nice guy who likes to film, to demanding auteur who thinks he’s hot… well, you know the brown goo I’m referring to.
Not that there’s anything wrong with making money or having fame in and of itself. If you’ve put your sweat, blood, and tears into something that people find valuable, there’s no shame in trading it as an item of value.
The problem comes in when you’ve deluded yourself to thinking gold drips from your pen and somehow you’re able to dupe people into believing what you have is worthwhile when really you were just in the right place at the right time or knew the right people.
Unfortunately some supposed “writers” will have all the chips fall into place for them, a sort of right place at the right time, and their rip off crud will be published which may cause some of us to question why we’re putting in all the time and effort into honing our craft.
Don’t settle for being a good enough writer. Don’t settle for writing something only because you think it’s what will get you published. Write your true passion, whether or not it gets you published. Write a worthwhile story. If you truly hone your craft and polish your story, its debut in the world will come because of its own merit.
Is it worthwhile to watch? I found it fascinating on multiple fronts—more than I could possibly mention here. If you view writers as artists (and you should) and view it with that eye, I think it will prompt you with a whole slew of personal inventory questions.
Have you seen the film? Or have you heard of Bansky? What do you think of street art? Or, more importantly, what are some ways we as writers could become a glorified scam artist that we should avoid?