“Exit Through The Gift Shop” is a raw documentary focused on the underworld of graffiti artists in the prime of the art. The fact that this film did not start out as a documentary, but as a man (Thierry Guetta) simply documenting his life and falling into the nightlife of graffiti, makes the film all the more real.
For a film to win Best Documentary, it should offer something worth documenting. The reason I chose “The Cove” last year (and it won) was because it was bringing to light something that I knew hardly anything about, besides small tidbits from the news and hearsay. But being thrown into a world of dolphin killing truly opened my eyes and in an entertaining and informative way. Though “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is not an informative documentary (for the most part) it does accomplish the above criteria for becoming Best Documentary.
The film entertains in an “along for the ride” sort of way. You are following in the life of a French immigrant that stumbles into this intriguing world that few know about, but many are exposed to. We have all seen graffiti and wonder who is behind it. By the end of the film, you learn some of the answers.
The best part of the film is the lack of police officers and an almost anti-focus on the law cracking down, which you come to expect with lawbreaking activity documentaries close to this (skateboarding films more specifically). I appreciated this because most audiences know this is illegal and the focus should not lie on something we know. Instead, we get to know the men and women behind the spray paint and paper mache on the sides of buildings.
These artists’ lives are interesting and, therefore, carries most of the film. Thierry’s filming style (or lack there of) makes for a truly authentic and “in the action” experience. Had Thierry been afraid to participate in the graffiti or been distant from the artists, this film would be lackluster and carry nothing special, but when artist Shepard Fairey (behind the iconic multi-colored image of President Obama) climbs out a window and onto the roof of what appears to be a hotel, Thierry is right behind him, climbing even higher, as they state, to get the perfect angle. That is what makes this film complete.
Banksy is the other element of the film that makes for quality moments. The build up to his introduction, creating a mysterious and untouchable feel to the man works perfectly and allows for a rewarding feeling when you finally meet him. Banksy is unyielding and honest, and this makes what he says even more entertaining. Banksy comes off as a true artist and you anticipate his next moments on screen.
The end of the film diverges into a different realm as Thierry attempts to become an “artist overnight” and as he inadvertently spits on what the underground group of rebels holds dear (or proves that people will buy anything called art), the film loses some steam and never really discusses how Thierry’s new friends honestly feel.
Best Documentary is difficult to nail down before all the films are viewed (besides “The Cove” stealing my vote early on). Having only seen “Restrepo” of the fellow nominees, it is again difficult to chose which is better in the category. Both are powerful and offer insight into worlds that I have never/will never get to see firsthand, supplying the definitive observational documentary experience. Since graffiti art peaks my interests slightly more than the war in Afghanistan, I would probably have to weigh “Exit Through The Gift Shop” slightly better than “Restrepo”. But this could change. Will I be happy if “Gift Ship” wins? Absolutely!
(37 OF 41 FILMS REMAINING)-(28 DAYS TO OSCARS)