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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Art of the Absurd
by Jeffrey Chen

Exit Through the Gift Shop hurts -- in a good way -- because it illustrates how our insistence and abilities in judging and evaluating art are often arbitrary, contradictory, and idiotic. This is a documentary by Banksy, notorious British street artist (highly skilled and creative graffiti vandal, really), which begins as a curious character study of one Thierry Guetta, a French-American living in Los Angeles, and ends up being a thorough deconstruction of the art realm within which Banksy operates.

I'll try not to spoil the story here, which needs to be seen in order to appreciate the delirious and often hilarious absurdity, but I will say that Guetta starts out as a compulsive filmer who becomes obsessed with street artists as a subject, and then later has learned enough about the activity to co-opt it. A scholar might see the events here as examples of the differences between true artistic inspiration and mere copycat fakers, but the perspective could be expanded to show that the whole environment is a sham -- that the art world is every bit as fad-driven as mainstream commercialism, and while satiating that drive it doesn't really have the ability to distinguish what's truly inspired and what's not. In that sense, even the works of someone legitimately expressing oneself, as Banksy does, is devalued through the very existence of generalized art evaluation. At the very least, the film shows how fragile the standards are for any art, and perhaps that is its greatest bit of wisdom.

I think Banksy was very brave in making this movie because in a way it deflates his own works and the effort he puts into them; but I also think the film reveals his understanding of the dynamics of the media he chooses to work in, and that, in order to continue on his own path of self-expression, he must constantly adapt. And, by making the insightful Exit Through the Gift Shop, he has already made a new move.

(Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories and rated "R" for some language.)

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