When Exit Through The Gift Shop starts, we meet Thierry Gutta, a thirty-something French immigrant who, along with his family, runs a very profitable vintage clothing store in Los Angeles. Thierry lost his mother at the age of eleven and since then has compulsively recorded everyone and everything around him on video. What starts off as just a bunch of obsessive home movies takes an interesting turn when he returns to France to visit his cousin who works as a street artist calling himself Space Invader, or just Invader for short. Invader makes mosaic pieces out of Rubics Cube parts that look like the video game creatures he has taken his name from and he places them in interesting places around Paris. This gives Thierry an instantaneous boner for street art and he starts videotaping his cousin doing his thing, which leads to him meeting and videotaping other street artists of varying degrees of notoriety, the biggest name being Shepard Fairey, who has risen to prominence thanks to his OBEY/Andre The Giant pieces and his now instantly recognizable Barrack Obama 'HOPE' campaign poster.
Thierry gets these artists to consent to letting him shoot them under the pretense that he's making a documentary on street art - there's one big piece missing from his puzzle, however, and that's the involvement of a notorious English street artist who calls himself Banksy. One of the best known artists in the scene, Banksy's identity remains a closely guarded secret, and many will tell you that he doesn't even have a phone. Thierry tries to get in touch with him but has no luck until Banksy comes to Los Angeles to visit Fairey. They call him up, he starts shooting them, and he and Banksy hit it off. Thierry accompanies him on a bunch of different projects and eventually Banksy tells him it's time to show the world his documentary. The result is a haphazardly edited ninety minute mishmash that's essentially unwatchable called Life Remote Control. Unimpressed, Banksy tells Thierry to head back to L.A. and make some street art of his own while he takes the tapes and makes something worthwhile out of all of the footage Thierry has shot. Seeing this as a sign, Thierry takes on the moniker of Mr. Brainwash and sets out to launch the biggest debut gallery showing from a street artist in the history of the movement - but will he be able to pull it off?
There's been some fairly loud rumbling claiming that Exit Through The Gift Shop is little more than a really well played hoax on the part of Banksy himself. While this hasn't been confirmed either way at the time of this writing, it's pretty hard to say without knowing anyone involved in the production if this is true or not. On one hand, there's the whole 'truth is stranger than fiction' which dictates that Gutta, who comes across as quite insane and completely obsessive compulsive, has to be real. You can't make a guy like that up, right? On the flipside, we don't really see Gutta doing much in regards to creating his own artwork. We do see him essentially running an art factory where a small army of graphic designers create pieces based on his direction, but his approach is one that seems very hands off. On top of that, there are moments where Gutta seems to be playing it up for the camera - at one point he injures his leg and rather than get a wheelchair or a pair of crutches he instead has an assistant push him around in a wheelbarrow. This doesn't discredit the film, but it does make you wonder if Banksy, with a lot of help from Fairey, are pulling one off on us.
Either way, hoax or legitimate documentary, Exit Through The Gift Shop is entirely worth seeing. It gives us an interesting look at the art world, how completely cannibalistic it can be, how powerful influence can be and how that influence can go horribly wrong. We get a firsthand look at how even the most subvert counterculture can easily be mass produced and spoon fed to the masses. With humor and insight, the film shows an audience who probably won't be familiar with how all this works just how ridiculous things can and do get in the art world, even offering up some explanation as to why. On top of that, it showcases some great footage of some of the best street artists out there at work everywhere from Israel to Disney World to New York to Los Angeles to Paris to London.
Exit Through The Gift Shop looks good in this AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.85.1 widescreen transfer. Keeping in mind that this film was pieced together from various different sources, ranging from HD cameras to cell phone video, you'll understand why the transfer here is an erratic one. Compared to the DVD (also included), the Blu-ray offers noticeably better color reproduction and better black levels but don't expect to be wowed by mind blowing HD clarity, as the image quality is only going to be as good as the source material will allow for. That said, the movie looks perfectly fine for what it is and Oscilloscope offers a nicely authored disc. This is one of those instances where the footage matters more than the presentation though it appears to be offered up in as good a shape as we can realistically ask for.
English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio tracks are supplied, with optional English subtitles and closed captions available. Both tracks sound quite good, though the 5.1 track spreads the audio around to nice effect here and there. Either way, expect most of the punch from either track to come from the score, which sound quite tight here. Dialogue is generally well leveled and perfectly understandable across the board while bass response is balanced nicely to add a strong low end without burying anything else.
Oscilloscope have provided a few interesting extras on this disc starting with a collection of five deleted scenes entitled More Brainwashing (5:25). There's nothing in here that would have ultimately changed the movie but these clips are worth watching if you enjoyed the feature. A Star Is Born (7:07) is a look at one of Banksy's art exhibitions while Life Remote Control (15:00) is an edited down version of Thierry's documentary on street art, cut from its hour and a half length based on 'legal advice' and presented here for your viewing pleasure. B Movie (13:35) is an interesting look at Banksy's work and while it offers no insight into the man hiding under the hoody, it's a pretty cool glimpse into his creative process and probably the best of the video supplements on the disc.
Special note should also be made of the packaging here - Oscilloscope houses the disc inside a fold out case that fits inside a cardboard slipcase. Also included inside the case are some postcards inserts, stickers and 2-D glasses that need to be worn to be properly understood. None of the extras on the disc are in HD, and a copy of the DVD is also included inside the packaging.
This Blu-ray release not only carries over all of the supplements from the previous DVD release, it literally includes that release. While it offers up a marginal improvement over the standard definition presentation, this is never going to be a movie that looks 'reference quality.' That said, what's here is good and Exit Through The Gift Shop is absolutely a film worth seeing and Oscilloscope's combo pack release comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.