Originally Reviewed – 6/14/2010
Let’s do a little guided meditation before the next review, shall we? That’s right…close your eyes, focus your mind’s gaze to a fixed point on the horizon and relax. Now, imagine yourself in the office of a film executive delivering the following movie pitch:
Producer : So, what’s this movie all about.
You: Well…it’s about street art.
Producer : Street art? That’s it?? Well, what happens?
You : :::big breath of air::: Well, it’s the story of a obsessive filmmaker, who’s really just a crazy person with a camera, who becomes obsessed with street art so much so that he spends years filming the artists tagging up Los Angeles with no intention of doing anything with it but when pressured, he comes up with something that’s total crap so the head street artist named Banksy, whose face you never see and has his voiceovers modulated, take his documentary and makes a documentary about the documentarian. Oh yeah, this all may or may not have really happened…we’re not too sure.
Confused? Interested? Excited? Maybe a little of all three? Fantastic. Welcome to the best documentary of the year so far, Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Strange synopsis aside, Exit is truly one of the oddest yet well composed films you’ll see this year. One moment, it’s a showcase of some truly fantastic street art, the next it’s a documentary about street art culture and towards the end becomes a mediation on how hype plays a crucial part in the validity of modern art. Filmed like a documentary and framed like a creative narrative, Exit blends styles, genres, and expectations in a way that mirrors the way street artists blend graffiti with their environment, creating their unique artistic style. In a way, Exit could be seen as a filmed form of street art, just by the way it’s presented to the audience. No matter how you view it, Exit is a startlingly well crafted film that does all the little and big things right.
Aside from shots of some of the most interesting street art you’ll ever see, Exit also features interesting, vibrant characters. From the thrift store owner turned obsessive film maker to the reclusive Banksy to the art snobs who inhabit a good part of the third act, Exit allows everybody to tell their side of the story in an interesting and unobtrusive way. The depth of the characters is what elevates the movie from standard documentary fare to a real cohesive story. First time director Bansky also does a remarkable balancing act in the creation of this film, leveraging real time footage and personal interviews that never lags the storytelling. Very remarkable for someone who’s known for creating murals on public buildings, not making movies.
Despite the circular and deceptively complex narrative, the film is a coherent, dizzying and breathtaking 87 minutes that leaves you panting for more at its conclusion. Exit Through the Gift Shop is easily one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year, and should definitely get some looks come this Oscar season for Best Documentary. Whether or not it’s an actual documentary has been debated among film critics, but for me, who really cares when you have a picture of this depth and quality. Highly recommended!
Score – 90%