BANKSY ACCOUNT: The work of London street artist Banksy is featured in ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,’ a documentary he is also credited with directing.
The film was compiled from footage obsessively shot and collected (without being labeled) by Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant, former used-clothing salesman and irregular family man in Los Angeles. Boasting about how much he charged for his schmattas, Guetta, a gnome-sized guy in mutton chops and omnipresent Panama hat, first falls under the spell of street art when he follows French artist Space Invader around Los Angeles to document his work and frequent encounters with the police.
Guetta later teams with Shepard Fairey of the iconic Obama “Hope” image, and then with elusive trickster Banksy.
Put together and retitled, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is an often fascinating account of street art and its various forms: stencils (Banksy), tiles (Space Invader), bigger-than-life posters (Fairey). You name it. One artist specializes in painting permanent shadows. But in reality, the film, narrated by Rhys Ifans, is more about Guetta and his conversion from camera-carrying Boswell of the scene to its newest sensation.
Rechristened Mister Brainwash, Guetta reinvents himself as another street artist, encouraged, at first, by Banksy and Fairey. However, much of his work apes Andy Warhol, whose spirit hovers over the entire scene like its procreative deity.
“This is not ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ” supposed-director Banksy assures us from behind his face-obscuring hood. We know.
Described in voice-over as “a hybrid form of graffiti” and later as a kind of vandalism, the art we see runs the gamut from the sublime (a mutant English phone box and counterfeit pound note by Banksy) to the ridiculous (most of Guetta’s work).
The artists sport such names as Zeus, Swoon, Borf and (my favorite) Neckface. A provocative invocation of Gitmo set up at Disneyland by Banksy lands Guetta in Mickey Mouse jail for a few hours. Guetta, the newborn artiste, turns out to be a bullying Napoleon, prima donna, narcissist and flat-out fraud.
In the end, Banksy and Fairey muse wryly about the monster they appear to have created in Guetta’s Mister Brainwash.
Meanwhile, the real Brainwash, whose art resembles a celebrity-besotted offspring of photocopying and Photoshop-ing, was commissioned to design the cover art of Madonna’s 2009 Greatest Hits CD. It looks, yep, like ersatz Warhol.
Rated R. At Kendall Square Cinema.
(In addition to art that will hurt some eyes, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” contains profanity.)