Monday, October 31, 2011

Exit Through The Gift Shop

PCMR Verdict: Stranger than fiction, this is an incredible tale of a man's journey through the world of street art, and how he transformed it forever.

PCMR Rating: 8/10

America has long been a fervent supporter of the culture of celebrity. Hollywood, with its fantastic promises of wealth beyond your dreams, a glamourous lifestyle, your name in lights, and a star in the walk of fame, this is the place above all that prizes the trappings of success, and unashamedly worships the successful individual. Remember when George Clooney was a fairly run-of-the-mill actor in ER, struggling to break into Hollywood movies? .. sometimes, with all the bright lights and facade of the entertainment business, it can be tough to remember a time when someone so iconic wasn't part of the glitterati.

It is strange to consider in the abstract, but celebrity culture is predicated on the fact that we reward individuals who entertain us, and when we find a Hollywood star we love, we reward them to a ludicrous degree. Movie actors especially are laughably overpaid, simply for providing us with a couple of hours of light entertainment once every couple of years. Here's a fact that might just ruin your day: Adam Sandler earned $50 million in 2010 for two movies: 'Just Go With It' and 'Jack and Jill'. Yup, 50 mill. And no, I didn't see them either.

Artists too, can enjoy this kind of incredible veneration for reaching the top of their game. Damien Hirst is another member of the 50 million club: in 2008, the asking price for his diamond-encrusted skull, entitled 'For The Love of God', was £50 million. In 2011, his work is a Red Hot Chilli Peppers album cover: he's a celebrity.

The thing is, when us mere mortals, inexpert and infrequent visitors to the artist's milieu, see stories of art like this, our instinctive reaction is to wonder: does the emperor actually have clothes on here? I mean, it's a nice looking skull, for sure. Ok, so he used diamonds worth $15 million to make it... but is that single act of artistic creativity worth a markup of £35 million to somebody? Really? And those animals cut in half, they're worth a fortune too? Really?

The achievements of artists are sometimes fanatically venerated, but these guys are often standing on the shoulders of giants, even copying shamelessly to the point of downright plagiarism, and this is one of the themes brilliantly explored by 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'.

Set against the backdrop of the world of street art, this documentary is surprising in its main target, given that initially it purports to be about the elusive, anonymous, but somehow eponymous street artist named Bansky. However, the documentary takes an excellent left turn early on, which I won't spoil, but I can at least tell you that it's not only about Banksy, and is all the better for it.

It's probably more fair to describe this documentary as the story of the film-maker, Thierry Guetta, and how his life changed once he started immersing himself in the world of street art, and ultimately came to know Banksy. There is an excellent sequence in the movie when Guetta shows Banksy the progress he has made on the documentary so far, and, tantalisingly, we get to see some of Guetta's original version of the documentary ourselves. The movie turns sharply after this point.

I can't say too much more at the risk of spoiling the experience for you, but if you have any interest in street art, the process of creativity, celebrity culture or the machine of consumerism, then you will find something to like in this documentary. I can't remember enjoying a documentary more, possibly since 'The King of Kong'. Unconditional recommendation from me.

The 40 Highest paid stars in Hollywood
Damien Hirst
Banksy's brilliant subversion of The Simpsons opening credits

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