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Exit Through The Gift Shop

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FWIW, A.O. Scott @ New York Times just wrote an article on the blurring line between fiction and reality in both documentaries and narrative films that may or may not touch on this. E.g.:

Other movies trod muddier ground, turning the question “Is it real?” into a kind of double dare. To ask the question is to risk seeming naïvely literal-minded; not to ask could make you a sucker. That, at least, was the trick attempted by Casey Affleck’s “I’m Still Here,” a multimedia publicity stunt wrapped around a transparently fake documentary. The subject of this carefully staged celebrity train wreck, Joaquin Phoenix, provoked much puzzlement with his infamously hairy and unhinged appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman.” By the time he and Affleck revealed that the actor’s bizarre public behavior — rambling incoherently, growing a beard, announcing that he was forsaking acting for a career in hip-hop — was a put-on, and the movie a prank, pretty much everyone already knew and pretty much nobody cared. The attempt to make a point about the fungibility of identity in an age of shallow celebrity foundered because it was too obvious, too elementary. Pretending to be someone else, or a different version of yourself, in front of the cameras is no great feat or revelation. It’s a fairly normal mode of being, for the famous and the obscure.

And besides, the simple binary choice that Affleck and Phoenix offered viewers — earnest or ironic? hoax or not? — was much too unsophisticated. They were the ones who looked naïve for supposing that anyone would fall for their stunt. But “Catfish” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” two documentaries that premiered at Sundance in January, were more slippery. The credited director and, at least at first, the ostensible subject of “Exit” is Banksy, the artist whose conceptual graffiti are as recognizable as his face is unknown. But what begins as a tour of the world of international street art quickly becomes something else. A documentary about Banksy and his colleagues, directed by an amiable Los Angeles-based Frenchman named Thierry Guetta, turns into its opposite, as the would-be (and apparently incompetent) documentarian remakes himself into an art-world pseudo-celebrity known as Mr. Brainwash, whose rise to fame is dutifully recorded by Banksy himself.

Is Mr. Brainwash the perpetrator of a fraud, the subject of a prank or just an ordinary guy caught in the viewfinder of a crafty filmmaker? Similarly vertiginous questions surround the Michigan woman who turns out to be the title character in “Catfish.” . . .

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BTW, Shepard Fairey appeared on the Colbert Report last week. The segment was Colbert trying to convince "noted art critic" Steve Martin to buy one of the portraits they use for decorations on the show. Frank Stella, Fairey, and Andres Serrano helped make the painting more artistic.

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That bit should have been really funny. In concept, it's awesome. As it played out, well... I thought it felt really awkward... even tense. Steve didn't seem to be enjoying it very much. I got the feeling he would rather have had the chance to talk about his book, which Colbert didn't ever give him an opportunity to do. (The "interview" was an odd one. Colbert usually gives his guests a chance to talk. But he seemed so giddy to have Steve on the show that he talked over him.)

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I saw Exit finally and, having already seen F is for Fake, My Kid Could Paint That, I'm Not There, and The Gleaners and I, I didn't feel that this brought much to the conversation. It's an occasionally amusing ride while it lasts, but I thought it stayed in the shallows of the questions it raised. And my own questions about the artists' ethics were brushed aside at every turn. So much of it seemed contrived for the sake of the movie that I wanted something more than "Golly, aren't human beings gullible?"

I mean, is the power of hype such big news? Are we surprised that slapdash designs can sell for lots of money? (Little Fockers is #1 at the box office over True Grit. I can as much understanding about art, entertainment, popularity, and profit from that bit of information as I did from this whole movie. And I can't say I much enjoyed the time spent with a self-proclaimed artist and a poser in the process. It's like watching Amadeus, but with a bunch of pop-song melodies being played for us on a Casio keyboard instead of Mozart's music. That leaves you with annoying non-art and an obnoxious man.

Edited by Overstreet

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Well, I haven't seen F is For Fake, so I can't comment on that. But the difference between Exit Through the Gift Shop and I'm Not There and My Kid Could Paint That is that Exit Through the Gift Shop is FUN, an element that, unfortunately, you missed. The comparison to The Gleaners and I, I simply don't get. Then again, that film was such a bore, I fell asleep within twenty minutes. I see all the love for it and sometimes think I should try it again -- it's been since it came out that I tried. But, alas, I've never gotten back to it, and I'm somewhat baffled at that comparison. Were the gleaners a fraud?

I'm not much of a street art fan, but I'd let Banksy paint my town. He is intelligent and witty, and politically biting, but most of all he's FUN. The film rather solidifies my interest in this mysterious figure I've admired for many years. It's as witty as anything he's done. I kinda hope we never really know his true identity.

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Well, I haven't seen F is For Fake, so I can't comment on that. But the difference between Exit Through the Gift Shop and I'm Not There and My Kid Could Paint That is that Exit Through the Gift Shop is FUN, an element that, unfortunately, you missed.

I know you haven't seen it, but F FOR FAKE is mighty fun.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I'm voting tomorrow. I have one night and one morning left to squeeze in a couple of films. Is that the one I should see?

Might be fun timing considering I just watched Me and Orson Welles last week.

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I'm voting tomorrow. I have one night and one morning left to squeeze in a couple of films. Is that the one I should see?

The one? Well, I am reticent to say that it is the one you should see given the amount of great films on our nomination list. But of my nominations, it's probably a good pick. It's a brilliant film. I'd also stand behind WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and NETWORK, which would make superb additions to our list (assuming you haven't seen either of them).

Edited by Ryan H.

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I'm going to give F is For Fake a try tonight. I'm in the mood for FUN. Thanks for the suggestion!

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Wow, I was a bit surprised the Jeffrey didn't take to it. I think the questions about art are better and more exhaustively framed than any of the other documentaries mentioned, with the possible exception of F for Fake. But F for Fake has a definite high brow feel.

In my opinion, I Am Still Here doesn't belong in such a conversation, at least not for having actually articulated anything about art. And I am not saying it didn't make a point about art but it was poorly done, inarticulate, poorly executed...

I am a fan of The Gleaners and I and I get the inclusion on many levels. Agnès Varda discusses how art is a gleaning process, on that she is partaking in by making the film. The documentary is about "gleaners gleanings" while the entire time she was "gleaning" from the "gleaners" in order to make a film. I have a headache but would enjoy discussing the parallels between Exit and Gleaners. Especially because the more I think about it the more similar they become.

Regardless of similarities Exit is also fun and mysterious and misleading and suspenseful - all things none of the others really contain.

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Thom wrote:

: In my opinion, I Am Still Here doesn't belong in such a conversation, at least not for having actually articulated anything about art.

Well, in fairness, Jeff didn't mention I'm Still Here (the Joaquin Phoenix film), he mentioned I'm Not There (the Bob Dylan film).

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Thom wrote:

: In my opinion, I Am Still Here doesn't belong in such a conversation, at least not for having actually articulated anything about art.

Well, in fairness, Jeff didn't mention I'm Still Here (the Joaquin Phoenix film), he mentioned I'm Not There (the Bob Dylan film).

Right. I haven't even seen I'm Still Here. But I'm Not There is rich with discussion-worthy scenes about art.

If I found more merit in the work that the street artists were doing, I would be more interested. But I quickly tire of their Fight the Power mode, except in rare instances of inspired, whimsical expressions. In this film, the imagery was pretty ugly; and the art in question was rather brash and annoying. The disrespect for law; the revelry in lying; the adolescent rebelliousness of the people in question; and the general unpleasantness and irresponsibility of the film's central subject were... hoax or otherwise... rather wearying to me.

Edited by Overstreet

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In this film, the imagery was pretty ugly; and the art in question was rather brash and annoying. The disrespect for law; the revelry in lying; the adolescent rebelliousness of the people in question; and the general unpleasantness and irresponsibility of the film's central subject were... hoax or otherwise... rather wearying to me.

It's hilarious you didn't see I'm Still Here, because you've described it pretty well here.

As far as Exit Through the Gift Shop goes, I think we saw two different films.

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In this film, the imagery was pretty ugly; and the art in question was rather brash and annoying. The disrespect for law; the revelry in lying; the adolescent rebelliousness of the people in question; and the general unpleasantness and irresponsibility of the film's central subject were... hoax or otherwise... rather wearying to me.

It's hilarious you didn't see I'm Still Here, because you've described it pretty well here.

I don't plan to see I'm Still Here for that very reason.

As far as Exit Through the Gift Shop goes, I think we saw two different films.

Well, it's been well-established since we first met that we are very different viewers. But I don't mind. I'm still glad you're around, Stef. I hope our paths cross in 2011. It's been seven years since I saw you last!

In this film, the imagery was pretty ugly; and the art in question was rather brash and annoying. The disrespect for law; the revelry in lying; the adolescent rebelliousness of the people in question; and the general unpleasantness and irresponsibility of the film's central subject were... hoax or otherwise... rather wearying to me.

It's hilarious you didn't see I'm Still Here, because you've described it pretty well here.

I don't plan to see I'm Still Here for that very reason.

As far as Exit Through the Gift Shop goes, I think we saw two different films.

Well, it's been well-established since we first met that we are very different viewers. But I don't mind. I'm still glad you're around, Stef. I hope our paths cross in 2011. It's been seven years since I saw you last!

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Well, it's been well-established since we first met that we are very different viewers. But I don't mind. I'm still glad you're around, Stef. I hope our paths cross in 2011. It's been seven years since I saw you last!

You'll be surprised if you do see me. I've actually turned into a talking duck since last you saw.

It's funny, we do have a different take sometimes, but often we're right there with similar leanings. I've learned a lot from you over the years, and you've put up with me quite well. :)

I did watch F For Fake last night, and believe Exit Through The Gift Shop to be a much funnier, stronger, and less artier (is that a word?) work. Welle's frenzied editing, though, is a thing of sheer beauty. I can't imagine how much real film must have been hanging from the rafters. Incredible.

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Thom wrote:

: In my opinion, I Am Still Here doesn't belong in such a conversation, at least not for having actually articulated anything about art.

Well, in fairness, Jeff didn't mention I'm Still Here (the Joaquin Phoenix film), he mentioned I'm Not There (the Bob Dylan film).

Thanks, Peter. That is completely fair. I did say I had a headache, right? Phew! Don't want to look like too big a fool. I am glad to know (or have it pointed out) that I'm Still here is not actually part of this conversation.

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Jeffrey, I am happy that you don't plan to see I'm Still Here, I wish I wouldn't have. To be fair, I thought it was going to be so much better. I had actually thought that I would like it better than Exit.... Instead the Joaquin Pheonix film made my, "I Wish I Could Get Those Two Hours Back" list.

If I found more merit in the work that the street artists were doing, I would be more interested. But I quickly tire of their Fight the Power mode, except in rare instances of inspired, whimsical expressions. In this film, the imagery was pretty ugly; and the art in question was rather brash and annoying. The disrespect for law; the revelry in lying; the adolescent rebelliousness of the people in question; and the general unpleasantness and irresponsibility of the film's central subject were... hoax or otherwise... rather wearying to me.

I can see how this would affect your viewing and interest. I have an affinity for the rebel (or rebellion) and I am drawn to Bohemia. Overall I found Exit Through the Gift Shop to be a richly layered documentary (possibly fauxumentary) and an incredibly satisfying experience. The fact that it was also entertaining was an added bonus. Or maybe a complete distraction to the material and conversation it had, hmm...anyway...

Just some quick thoughts as I continue to nurse my migraine.

I liked the Blair Witch style mystery beginning and the sort of campy feel of hunting for snipes with a serious tone, as to not completely dismiss it from the get go. This also set a rythm for entertaining.

One thing I did go back-and-forth about was whether or not I believed Thierry Guetta was "real." Regardless, I thought this character/profile was done well and became easy to accept.

Street art is an interesting world. The transiton of that idea, the form and context, into an art gallery or museum is an upclose look at the process of how form and content are asorbed into the formal world of "art."

It could be said that this is a modern version of the decline of the Salon de Paris and institutional approval of art (creating and patronage) and the emergence of the impressionistic style and artist.

Once art changes into an acceptable form it begins to lose its meaning and the content becomes less and less poingiant. Slowly it becomes commericalized and the power is lost.

This film also deals with urban issues and gentrification and how the artist in an integral part of both.

It asks questions like, "What is art?" and "Who can make art?"

It focuses on artistic communities and the network(s) necessary for a created object to become art.

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Sicinski:

What a load of shit this film is! And how fortunate for the film, its shadowy maker, and the critics so keen to make hay of it that the red herring of a "hoax" has cropped up around it, so as to distract from all the ways in which Banksy promises the world but delivers self-importance with a trickle of insight.

...

If the whole premise of Exit Through the Gift Shop -- not where it began, but of where it ended up, of where Banksy very deliberately took it -- is that the lousy, idea-free art-lite of Mr. Brainwash represents an emptying-out of a style and a movement that was once edgy and dangerous, if not outright political, then isn't it incumbent on Banksy to do everything necessary to demonstrate the validity of the work he and his film champions? As it stands, he doesn't. These guys are deemed okay because Guetta idolizes them, and then because Banksy considers them originators who Guetta in some way ripped off. But if Guetta's bad taste is the baseline for the entire enterprise, then we're going to need something more substantial. The great document of the street art movement that Guetta failed to deliver and the atmospheric social commentary on the state of street art Banksy salvaged from it both look discomfitingly similar: "check out my awesome friends."

Edited by Overstreet

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I haven't read the entire Sicinski critique of the film but I find the above comments interesting. I can even understand why such things would be said and such an interpretation would come to be expressed. That being said, I think the assertion in the critique except saying that it is "incumbent on Bansky to do everything necessary to demonstrate the validity of the work he and his film champions" is either flawed or, potentially, against even the point of the film. First, I simply do not agree with the statement and find it more of a comment based on conditioned film viewing and an audience expectation. Second, the validity of street art lies in the lap of the audience, the receiver. The viewer completes the meaning or decode the encrypted message. This, to me, is what makes Exit... that much more brilliant; it is a film that is, in the end, replicating the street art method.

This film is more than a simple visual commentary on street art and whether or not it has been emptied meaning, power, or anything at all. It is a commentary on the consumption of art, on the audience of art, on the question of "how" art is defined and "who" defines it, on the very idea of whether or not Bansky (or street artists in general) even consider what they do art. It is about the art world and artistic networks.

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That being said, I think the assertion in the critique except saying that it is "incumbent on Bansky to do everything necessary to demonstrate the validity of the work he and his film champions" is either flawed or, potentially, against even the point of the film.

To get what Sicisnski is saying here, I think you really have to read his full review. Which is fascinating. More than any of the positive reviews, Sicinski's harsh response to the film has me itching to see EXIT THROUGHT THE GIFT SHOP.

Edited by Ryan H.

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New Doubts for a Film That Has Truth Issues

Joachim Levy . . . a Swiss filmmaker and editor now living in Zurich, worked with Mr. Guetta as an editor and producer on “Life Remote Control,” a film about the world of street art and other bits of scenesterism. It had appearances by indie luminaries like the artist Shepard Fairey and Dov Charney, the chief executive of American Apparel. Screened in 2006 and featuring a proudly frenetic editing style, it received attention from street culture magazines and, according to Mr. Levy, executives at MTV. “No one can pull the wool over your eyes if they’re going in two different directions at once” was a tag line.

But when Banksy, another of the film’s subjects, got hold of “Life Remote Control,” he pronounced it unwatchable and took over the camera himself. A few minutes of “Life Remote Control” and some footage from Mr. Guetta and Mr. Levy appear in “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which subsequently became the story of how Mr. Guetta was transformed, with Banksy’s prodding, from a chronicler of street art into an artist himself, with his cut-and-paste works that now command tens of thousands of dollars. “Life Remote Control” also appears as an extra feature on the recently released DVD of “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” but Mr. Levy’s name does not turn up in the credits.

Now he has emerged to claim what he feels is rightly his. “I would like very much to be credited for the movie, for my work,” Mr. Levy, 34, said in a telephone interview this week. He praised Banksy as an artist but said he felt taken advantage of. . . .

New York Times, January 5

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Look what's supposedly for sale on eBay: The Identity of "Banksy."

More at Mashable.

Edited by Overstreet

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And, yet again:

This listing (260720844294) has been removed, or this item is not available.

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Exclusive: Banksy eBay Seller Claims He Was 'Paid Off'

We contacted jaybuysthings via email to find out what happened. The listing had been previously pulled because the seller wasn't offering any kind of real, tangible product (hence the piece of paper). When we identified who we were and asked why it had been torn down a second time, someone (email name listed as "Unknown, Unknown") replied asking for proof of our professional affiliation. We shared the link to our original story about the eBay auction as identification and received this response, with a picture attached (see it bigger in the gallery below) around 3 AM today: "I spent 3 years finding the answer. I was paid off, now I can tell you nothing. All I can give you is this photograph."

Cinematical, January 20

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