Masked and Anonymous

04/14/2010 4:00 AM |

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Directed by Banksy

That irrepressible Banksy is up to his old tricks again but in a new medium, with a chronicle of a handful of street artists that pointedly changes into a tedious pseudo-accidental portrait of their chronicler. The ephemeral artworks of Shepard Fairey and other familiar names are glimpsed through the nosy lens of Frenchie videographer Thierry Guetta, followed by Banksy’s own highlights, and finally a mockumentary-worthy tag-along with Guetta’s own rise doing gimmicky, rote reappropriation art.

On the one hand, this is Banksy staging another mischievous takeover that effaces his own identity, allowing another subject to take over what people might expect to be an inside look at the anonymous prankster. But the film’s progression also tells a history according to Banksy that’s easy to read as self-regarding: the idealized free-for-all of graffiti and stencil bombers on the streets of Los Angeles culminates with Banksy’s work (both his L.A. arrival and international showstoppers in Gaza and Disneyland), which is followed by the commodified drek of goofball naif-figure Guetta getting attention and cash—effectively ending up where the title indicates.
Banksy, or his studio, deploys a tried-and-true move, the detour, which has diverted and guided documentary audiences with varying sophistication since at least Sherman’s March. Featuring a smarmy storybook narrator, soundbyte wit from Banksy (face blurred), and cliché “But now…” framing, the film’s style sends up talking-head-doc conventions. Fostering mystique for so long is no mean feat (though a hallmark of marketing), but art-world shenanigans are so easy a target and milieu that Banksy could do much better.

Opens April 16