Most people probably think that “good documentary movies” is an oxymoron. Good documentary movies are what other people (Did someone say the losers and the nerds?) go see. Good documentary movies are what you promise yourself you will go see when the trailer comes out, but never do.
Good documentary movies, I realize every time I see one, suffer the exact opposite fate of bad blockbusters. The one you don’t think twice about going to see (think Avatar) and afterwards you are sorry you did see it. The other you really struggle to go to (A documentary about spelling bees? Are you crazy?) and afterwards you can’t stop telling people how fabulous it was and it’s a shame documentaries don’t get the attention they deserve.
And there goes Exit Through the Gift Shop, a brilliant film by (and mostly about) the British street artist Banksy. Like me before I saw Exit, you might not know the name Banksy but you probably know lots of the images the anonymous artist painted (or stenciled) on walls in Britain from the 1980s onwards, and then in places like Bethlehem, where he painted a piece of a paradise-looking island on the wall dividing Palestinians and Israelis. His art is satirical and funny, and comments on society and politics. And it’s almost always fun. Remember the British red telephone box sawn in half and reassembled as if it had melted?
In Exit, you are given a whirlwind tour of street art around the world, all pumping along with a great soundtrack by Richard Hawley (listen here). How street art started, why it started, and how it got out of control, becoming a multimillion-dollar industry that had grown very simply out of a bunch of down-and-outers getting creative.
One person in particular, Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, gets major (and not always nice) attention in the movie. In the 1990s, Guetta started documenting street artists around the world with his video camera, hoping to make a movie about it, but after shooting millions of feet of film he suddenly decided to turn himself into the biggest street artist of all, Mister Brainwash. None of this went down well with Bansky, who believes that Guetta made a complete mockery of a genre that had started organically, honestly, and not with the purpose of making money – which Guetta made lots of.
Truth is stranger than fiction, and the story in Exit is proof of that.