Documentaries were big in 2010. Some of them dove into much politicized worlds of thought, like Restrepo exploring the war in Afghanistan and Inside Job shedding light on the recent financial crisis. Exit Through the Gift Shop, on the other hand, provides insight on a decidedly less world affecting but equally dramatic world of street art through one of the art form's paragons, Banksy. In a move as mystifying and enticing as many of his exhibits, the film is as much about him as it is the medium as a whole... and some guy named Thierry Guetta.
Guetta, as it turns out, spent many of his years seeing his life through the eyes of a camera. Practically attached at the shoulder, his camera captured the most mundane things you can imagine, which ultimately drove Guetta to seek some more thrilling specimens than the people around him every day. He followed celebrities, taking video for nobody's benefit but his own; he got a rush from the danger of paparazzi, rather than the idea of turning in his work for cash.
One day he began shooting video of his friend who called himself "Invader". Invader spent much of his time making mosiacs of video game characters, only to slap them onto the side of a building or structure out in public in some sort of guerrilla art exhibition. Following Invader around and being party to what might be considered vandalism to the law excited Guetta and ended up sucking him into a world that steps across the line on a daily basis for the sake of art.
In time Guetta meets Banksy, a man who eventually became a figurehead for the street art movement without ever showing his face. While not immediately trusting this strange Frenchman videographer, Banksy begins to reveal more and more of his private little sphere and eventually realizes the potential of the years of video Guetta took of various street artists in a quest for thrills. Much of that video ultimately made it into this documentary.
What makes Exit Through the Gift Shop interesting is that it takes a story that was originally intended to end at one man, Banksy, and reverses the camera to get a glimpse of the truth behind the art by observing a man who seems to have seen it all. When it comes down to it, Banksy is listed as the director of this film, meaning he's the one who took the footage and drove it into a particular direction. As a viewer, you're left to figure out exactly who Guetta is and how people like him affect street art as a medium.
Much of the second half of the movie is devoted to the cultural shift that rose out of the birth of street art as a mainstream art form. While Exit Through the Gift Shop offers no particular conclusions in its final moments, there's one thing you can be sure of - Banksy is an artist with an eye for a good story, whether it's told through paint on a wall or video on a reel.