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“Exit Through The Gift Shop”: It’s a madhouse, this modern life.

“Exit Through The Gift Shop”: It’s a madhouse, this modern life. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

At the end of “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” a few of us Googled the name of its subject to make sure he actually exists. I’m sure we weren’t alone — “the world’s first street art disaster movie” is also the first movie from pseudonymed British art star Banksy, who’s never had a problem being playful with the truth before. A web search makes it clear that Thierry Guetta (aka “Mr. Brainwash”), a Frenchman living in L.A. who finds his way into the street art scene, is a real person who ended up having a real 2008 show that earned him a real L.A. Weekly cover story. And even then, some people wondered if he was a phony, a fake or an invention of Banksy himself.

But as a wise colleague pointed out, the truth isn’t actually that important to this delightful film, which chronicles how Guetta, an effusive guy with gigantic mutton chop sideburns who obsessively self-documented his life with a video camera, became the official chronicler of the rise of street art. It starts with him following around his cousin, the anonymous Space Invader, who puts up illicit mosaic tiles inspired by vintage video games in cities around the world. Through him, he meets Monsieur André, and then the likes of Swoon, and Sweet Toof, and Borf, and Ron English, and many others, including Shepherd Fairey and, finally, Banksy.

01272010_giftshop1.jpgGuetta chronicles all of these artists at work — Banksy hooded, or from behind, or in shadow, voice altered in the film’s interviews — following them at night as they spraypaint tags or stencil buildings or put up stickers or wheatpastes, and getting some amazing, exclusive footage that he… never intended to use. Guetta claimed he was making a doc on street art, but he just tossed the tapes, sometimes unmarked, into boxes. It was being there, capturing it all, and having a place in the scene, that he loved.

And that’s where “Exit Through The Gift Shop” gets really interesting. Guetta doesn’t seem to have any deep connection to art — he bewilders some of his subjects with blithely clueless questions. But he likes, again, the scene, and he invents a persona, Mr. Brainwash, and starts putting up his own wheatpastes (one directly on top of one of Fairey’s “Obey”) all over town. Seeing Guetta’s not going to get it together to make the street art chronicle he thinks needs to happen, Banksy convinces him (this part’s a bit fuzzy) to leave the footage in London and work instead on putting together a showcase of his art in L.A., portrayed as something of a Faustian bargain. Guetta takes his blessing and runs with it (literally making Banksy’s statement about him into a billboard-sized ad), sinking enormous amounts of money into a giant self-funded gallery show filled with paints and sculptures he and his army of assistants (mainly the latter) have created.

01272010_giftshop2.jpgStreet art, before it started funneling into the gallery world, had a necessary purity to it — it was impossible to make money from directly; it was accessible to, even unavoidable for, the public; and the very act of making it risked prosecution. With the rise of the form, with the acceptance of its value as serious art, with the recognition and the collectors suddenly willing to shell out thousands of dollars for pieces, it became subject to the same bullshit as the mainstream art world, where hype and groupthink determine what’s valuable, what’s good, because no one can tell otherwise.

“Exit Through The Gift Shop” becomes a duel of narratives, with Fairey and the dryly funny Banksy offering their take versus that of the expansive and impossible to dislike Guetta, whose art may be derivative and terrible but whose grasp of the other trappings of street art stardom is dead on. In the end, Banksy finds himself trapped by his own game-the-system ethos, ruefully pointing out that Guetta didn’t play by the rules, but that there aren’t any rules, so he can’t really complain. “I used to encourage everyone to make art,” he says. Beat. “I don’t really do that anymore.”

“Exit Through The Gift Shop,” which is narrated by Rhys Ifans, does contain some remarkable street art footage, including a killer opening montage set to Richard Hawley’s “Tonight The Streets Are Ours.” You also see Banksy’s 2006 trip to Disneyland, during which he placed a blow-up doll dressed like a Guantanamo inmate by Thunder Mountain. And then went on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride.

“Exit Through The Gift Shop” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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