You know those films that make you want to throw heavy objects at the screen? The ones that make you hide your face from the agony of watching another second? The ones full of moments that make you embarrassed for the poor main character?
Exit Through the Gift Shop was one such film. By the time “El Fin” showed up on the screen, I was completely dumbfounded….no…yes, dumbfounded. Any other emotion word pigeonholes the feeling, but with this homegrown documentary, you feel so many terrible things at once it’s impossible to separate one emotion from the other. “Dumbfounded” covers a multitude of inner conflicts.
The film is about a crazy French dude, Thierry (Terry) Guetta, whom no one can really tell if his eccentricities are genius or pure madness. He starts out filming street art (“ze danger made me feel good”), then becomes a street artist himself. It starts out sort of inspiring as this guy comes out of nowhere and begins bringing some recognition to street artists across the world, but by the end, hubs and I were wide-eyed and speechless. Thierry single-handedly became an overnight success in the L.A. art world, not because the art was that good, but because the hype was that good.
L.A. Times writer John Hors wins the reviewer’s round of pin-the-tail-on-the-nut-job. He says the film is “a sly satire of celebrity, consumerism, and the art world.” My personal review? Invest the 86 minutes elsewhere. But if you’re curious enough to watch an opportunistic madman sucker thousands of Los Angeleans out of hundreds of thousands of dollars for manufactured, photo-shopped Andy Warhol imitations, be my guest. If it wins Best Documentary at the Oscars…oh man…heads will roll.
But I’ll admit, it did get me thinking about the fame facade. Fame can be bought like Persian rugs or used cars. If you have resources at your disposal, you can create fame. Thierry Guetta is a fame artist. But talent? Talent isn’t purchased with resources. It isn’t exploited on the coattails of prominent figures. Talent is forged somewhere before any of us are conscious of it and is molded in sleepless nights of hard work and self-sacrifice. This documentary illustrated how truly valueless celebrity is.
The film’s director, Banksy, himself a true street artist, remains in anonymity throughout the movie he stars in. I appreciated his sincerity in saying “it’s never been about the hype or the money.” If anything, Exit Through the Gift Shop (which I have yet to correlate the title with anything in the film itself) is a symbol for every form of art. It represents the difference between the artist and the opportunist–a difference anyone whose passion is creation would do well to take to heart.