The controversy regarding the authenticity of Exit Through the Gift Shop is an unnecessary aside to what the documentary really is, a film that does document the awareness and acceptance of street art as a form. If Thierry Guetta truly did record nearly thousands of hours of footage over the years then he has created one of the most important records of a truly modern art form. The idea to even concentrate an entire short history of a form that has taken shape in the past two decades is a arduous process.
Thierry Guetta began video recording nearly everything he did and saw in his life. He learns his cousin is Invader, a street artist, and Thierry begins to tag-along to his late-night excursions. Thierry begins to film other street artists through Invader, and later is invited to film Shepard Fairey, a staple in the street art community, responsible for Obey Giant and the Obama Hope poster. Thierry insists to each of his subjects that he is acquiring footage to be used in a documentary, which later Thierry admits his recording obsession is to preserve memories.
Thierry finally comes into contact with uber-shadowy figure and the most infamous street artist of all, Banksy. Banksy allows Thierry to follow him during his LA stay and later to London. Banksy enjoys the romantic idea that street art, which is often washed away or destroyed days later, can be documented. Their friendship blossoms, so much that Thierry is involved in Banksy’s Disneyland installation of a Guantanamo Bay detainee doll. Banky’s own LA opening to his gallery increases the price of his works and the interest in street art, prompting him to push Thierry to finish the documentary sooner than later. Thierry delivers an unwatchable, unstructured, experimental-esque film to Banksy, who makes the suggestion for Thierry to produce his own art show instead.
First, about the authenticity of the film. While certain aspects of the film can have some moments of unbelievability, it should not limit ones mind to buy into the film. Resisting the enjoyment of the film based on such controversies will prevent one from seeing what this film is truly about. The documentation of an art form where the artist must be clever, sneaky, and resourceful—only to have the hard work erased the next morning. The process of such documentation is also worthy of interest.
Thierry is no cinematographer, he is a common man with a consumer-level camera. It is the perfect stylus to capture an art form where installations appear over night and stealth is key. Having been able to capture as much as he had over the years is an incredible feat, and his collection of tapes may in fact be the most important artifact for early street art history.
Writers are always told to write about what they know, but should filmmakers only produce films about what they know? Fierry produced Life Remote Control with the clips from his tapes he recorded himself. While he may have produced thousands of hours of footage he may have never had the chance to practice on a home editing machine, and it shows. It was Banksy who had to take the project out from under Thierry’s feet, guide him into another direction, before the film could be turned around to become what it is today.
If the film is indeed authentic, it is an excellent story about the documentarian’s process, the process of a street artist, and only adds to the wonderment of the subject. If not, than Exit Through the Gift Shop is an excellent farce that transcends the common conception of documentaries, joining the ranks of F For Fake. The awareness of this film is a continuing trend, a rather unconscious one, for 2010 documentaries and Exit Through the Gift Shop will find a solid place in contemporary film history.