In 1999, Thierry Guetta was a mild-mannered clothing store owner who had developed quite an obsession with filming everything in sight. He liked to do this in order to essentially validate his own existence. Transforming his life into film made him feel as if he existed, something he felt left out of as a child when he was not made aware of his mothers deadly illness until it took her life. That year marked a change in Thierry's life though. His cousin, under the pseudonym Invader, made and planted several 8-bit inspired mosaics made out of discarded Rubic's Cubes around town. One day Guetta joined him, and he never stopped filming again. For the last ten years, Guetta built up reputation amongst the street artists of the world. He was allowed to film them all at work because he claimed to be making a documentary.
The truth, however, was completely different. Guetta had hundreds upon hundreds of tapes, all tucked neatly away in giant boxes inside his garage. He never intended to make a documentary. He just wanted to feel like he was alive. Hanging out with a group of individuals who the society had labeled criminals for vandalism, running across rooftops at night and putting up posters was the best way for him to feel alive. I don't believe he would've even needed the camera any more. Guetta still had one dream though. He wanted to film the elusive street artist named Banksy in action. The two met and befriended each other, and eventually Banksy left Thierry to edit the documentary he had been telling everyone would blow their minds.
Six months later he had finished the documentary. Thierry describes his film making method to be almost like a lottery. He randomly picked out tapes from the boxes without knowing what was on them, and edited them all into an insane avant-garde epileptic seizure named Life Remote Control: The Movie. After seeing it, Banksy asked Thierry if he could get the tapes for himself so he could edit something together. Thierry agreed, and almost as a sidenote Banksy suggested Guetta should make some art of his own. And boy, he did. He sold off everything he owned in order to employ a crack team of Photoshoppers who he commanded to throw random colors and ink blots on top of known photos and art. He built massive hype around his art show, made a million dollars with unique pieces that he made spray painting prints with no purpose or artistic intentions. Then Banksy made this film, depicting everything that had happened.
Much speculation has been presented over whether or not this movie is a "hoax." Is it fake or real? I argue it doesn't matter. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a satire, regardless of whether or not the events were set up. It defies the definitions of genre with it's very existence and I dare say we may never get another film that does it quite like this. This is why I described the basic events of the film to you. You can not point a finger at this film and call it a documentary to describe it. Labeling it as a single thing is counter-productive and false, as it is more than just one thing.
At the same time Exit Through the Gift Shop is a very light watch and an extremely deep one. You can watch it, enjoy it, laugh at Thierry's tragic mania, but at the same time you're forced to do more thinking than any film about post-modern art I've ever seen. As the film revolves around not only Thierry Guetta, but also street art, one might expect it to explain this style of art. It does not. By doing so you're simply shown images of these wonderful pieces people have plastered and painted on the walls of our cities for years, and left without a set base to think about these pieces on.
The film decisively intends not to explain a single thing about the art itself, which leaves you entirely on your own to think about what art is to you. It forces you to answer not just what you think art is, but it's meaning to you and especially whether or not you believe the relationship between the piece of art and it's maker has any stake in what you think of it. Even though simplistic, the art Guetta makes is viewed as fantastic by the people who visit his show, as they do not know he really doesn't know what he is doing, why he is doing it and how to do any of it. Should we condemn him for doing this, when really most of the other original and fantastic pieces of art seen previously in the film are nothing more than similar inside jokes of sort that only work in the way intended in the heads of their makers. Is Guetta's art somehow worse just because his methods of making it seem to almost acknowledge the ridicilousness of it all? There are even more questions the film raises, but these are all questions that each of us needs time to think about. The wonder of Exit Through the Gift Shop is that it is not just a hilarious character piece; it's also the most thought-provoking film I have seen all year and the wonder of it is that I don't believe there is a single grown-up out there who can't help but ask these questions when watching this movie. It forces you to ponder on your own relationship with art, and it does it in such a subtle and entertaining way that only afterwards you truly understand that you have indeed been duped into growing as a human being through these questions. What new film has come out in the recent years that have truly not only touched you but helped and almost forced you become more as a member of the human race? Exactly.