Anonymous is the new Famous 4

elephant in the roomI am currently writing a novel which mentions the British graffiti artist Banksy. I had some familiarity with his work, but since his art work is used as a contrast point for my main character at an important junction in the plot, I decided to do as much research as possible. Started with online info, referenced the coffee table picture book titled “Wall and Piece” and finally watched the movie “Exit Through the Gift Shop” – A movie by Banksy about graffiti art or street art (as he calls it). This blog post is a review of the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then please do yourself a favor and stop reading this blog post and go see the movie first. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

Ok! so imagine the Batman movie by Christopher Nolan. But, instead of a caped hero, you have one that wears an oversized hoodie and his voice although disguised is more intelligible. Just like batman he likes everything, as long as it comes in black. In place of the Joker you have a crazy French guy with side burns that make the Joker’s facial scars look attractive. In place of explosives, you have raw footage of paint bursting on the streets that will blow your mind. Similar to the Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises, Exit through the Gift Shop has a super exciting opening sequence that left me holding my breath. The sound track alone is so compelling as be worth seeing the movie for. Unlike the Batman movie, we never get to see our hero unmasked, we never get to meet Bruce Wayne. Banksy’s identity remains a highly guarded secret. It would be hilarious if Banksy turns out to be Richard Branson, or some other super rich English guy, who lives in a mansion where proper English butlers get employed, but I am letting my imagination run wild. After all, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary and we all know that real life is far more compelling than anything our feeble human imagination can conjure up.

The story is simple. When a peculiar French American, who calls himself Mr. Brainwash (doesn’t that moniker scream: “I want to wear a purple suit!”?), fails in his quest to make a documentary about street art; Banksy decides to switch roles with him. Banksy pretends to be a filmmaker and instructs Mr. Brainwash to become an artist. What unfolds next is nothing short of an epic journey that makes the plot twist to entrap all of Gotham’s police in the sewers seem like child’s play.

Hey! maybe Banksy is really Christopher Nolan …. that would make perfect sense since they are both British. It would also explain the eerie goodness of the movie. How did somebody who never made a movie, make a movie that is so good? The movie is so good that I have watched it 4 times within one week. I am somebody who until recently thought that graffiti, with a few rare exceptions, was nothing more than a childish impulse to get attention. By the end of the first viewing I found my fingers twitching to touch a spray can and my feet aching to run outside in the pitch dark whilst I spray paint multitudes of surfaces with random doodles. Alas, I am too chicken to follow up on that impulse. I seem to have a difficulty with breaking laws – because I am a giant whimpy conformist that lacks authentic rebellious tendencies. Sigh! Please do feel sorry for me. However I find myself looking differently on all the graffiti I encounter while walking the streets of Vancouver -even the ugly kind where the person simply scribbles their name on a wall. Where before I walked by, not giving it a second of my attention, I now stop and take a fascinated hard look. “Wow! real authentic graffiti”

After reading reviews of the movie online, there seems to be a consensus that the movie is a prank of some sort, that Banksy set up the events to play a joke on the audience … that is us. I however believe that the movie is 100% true. I have no evidence to prove such an assertion, only my intuition to guide me, to my mind, the events in the movie are so crazy, so radical, so mind blowing that they can only be true. However, all the debate about the authenticity of the movie obfuscates a far more important issue that the movie is asking us to consider. I believe that Banksy made a movie to make statement, perhaps to the world or perhaps to himself, “Here is exactly the type of an Artist I don’t want to become”. A few years ago, I saw a documentary about the Beatles and one of the band members, I can’t remember which one, said that at the height of their fame, any time they appeared on stage the audience members would scream hysterically and it didn’t matter what they sang or how well they played their music, nobody was actually is listening. This statement struck me as incredibly sad. Banksy is at a point in his career where he can scribble a random doodle on a paper napkin and somebody would try to sell it on ebay and some other fool would actually buy it. For somebody who had built his career on placing art work in the street, for free, as a gift to any passerby, this must be a painful position to be in. A creative and motivated person can handle failure and inspire himself through dark times, but it is a far harder struggle to keep himself authentic when the light shines so bright it starts to shine through. With all the hype, how can a person keep it real? It is a difficult dilemma. I found myself pondering the question: “Is success a far more terrifying experience than failure?”

My only minor criticism of the movie is the fact that despite the multitude of footage of numerous street artists, there is a single brief footage of a female street artist and serious non-existence of anybody not white. I would expect a movie about street art to be far more diverse. It is one thing, when the elite art establishment is an all white boys club, but when even the counter culture to the establishment mimics that aspect …. that is when I begin to feel depressed. But perhaps I am only exposing my own racism by assuming that Banksy is a white male, for all I know he might be an East Indian lesbian … who knows? I apologize for my narrow mindedness in advance.

All in all, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a brilliant movie that raises issues worth pondering about art, fame, hype and authenticity. It has rocketed into second place on my list of favorite movies about art.

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4 thoughts on “Anonymous is the new Famous

  • Rod

    Good one. Elenita!!! ..

    my only exceptions to it are

    One, your, I hope, tongue in cheek, endorsement of Graffiti

    I am a big negatory on it, e.g. in poor areas, as a statement of violence against
    the people, the poor people who don’t have cars, have to use subways etc. as it
    makes ugly their world, expresses societies lack of respect for their lives, their
    sensibilities, dignity … letting the few, vandalize with spray bombs the living
    space of the many… in the rich areas there is no graffiti . They probably think
    it is a cool cultural statement of the less well off! … I especially found
    shocking the massive scale vandalism with people spraying from car windows, using
    big commercial spray canisters with hoses etc. …. Good opening ploy however for
    moviegoer attention!

    On the other hand, the talented artists that do stuff, are cool! but I have yet to
    see any of that ‘good graffiti’ in Vancouver,

    I see lots, in parks, and by rivers and in the city … four letter words, racism,
    sexism, violence bullying against individuals i have taught my children not to use
    the word Ugly,,, but that stuff truly is

    And the cost to combat this stuff takes money away from programs that could help
    people (my City Hall self coming out!_)

    My daughter’s boyfriend, just got back from a European tour, and surprisingly one
    of his strongest recollections is of the major graffiti problem in Italy, and, I
    guess as the City governments are so strapped for cash there, graffiti cleanup is
    not addressed… It was mentioned even by some of the Italian’s he met as one of the
    major shames of their country… He said what a relief it was to cross the border
    into Austria, and in other countries, where the eyes could relax,,,

    Certainly, if we could give graffiti licences only to Banksy type artists,,,… but
    most people would probably by like your son, or me when I was young and just want to
    splash as much paint around as possible.., use bad language, slander teachers etc.
    Has your son read your review?… He might get the wrong idea… watch how he spends
    his allowance… look for paint under his nails!!

    Anyway, that aside, again the Movie was great! and I don’t think it glorifies
    graffiti… My concern was more about your review!!

    My second ‘contrary thought re your review’ Don’t agree with you slagging the film
    for sexism… Men are different than women… I bet you don’t find many women,
    wanting to be ‘bad’ spraying the street in the middle of the night, with the cops in
    pursuit. … I thought you were against political correctness; I think if there
    were good numbers of women doing this stuff they would be heavily featured in the

    some thoughts, random:

    I would also rank this film super highly on my list!!! Perhaps not number 2…?

    I feel like Mr Brainwash,… He is my new hero, and people will someday judge
    whether I am rabbit or tortoise!

    Great editing… Banksy has talents in all areas… and what is cool is no one is
    glorified in this, even Banksy edits himself to be a bit pathetic… Very
    understated high art,,, to have himself in as a character in his own Arte! Bravo!

    I am not a big fan of Street or Modern Art that just takes photos, etc. and
    superimposes colours … I am fan of them, when they work, but I find them kind of
    a cheap thrill, like Candy floss at Playland … sweet but leave a bad taste in the
    long run … sort of like the difference between the beauty of a city sidewalk at
    night vs. the beauty when up in the mountains, alone with the wind trees, rivers,
    oceans etc,

    To contradict myself, just got back from LA where saw some classical Art in both the
    Getty Center and at the Getty Villa… Some amazing and inspiring, but a lot pretty
    dull stuff eg. ancient cultures prosaic ‘photos and wall paper’ provided by
    tradesmen… vs. I bet overall might have had more fun at Mr. Brainwash’s event!

    Of course i am jealous that they, and many other visual artists, actually have a
    product vs. musicians who yield their music free to the world… I’d love to sell
    my music for $100k a song!!

    I liked the fresh Avant Garde aspect of the film mixing life, with documentary,
    with adventure, with a great plot, with compelling characters etc. Mr Brainwash
    was the greatest! Every see John Belushi in Animal House or on Saturday Night…
    but also elements of Charlie Chaplain, Henry Ford, all of humanity…

    The movie was so human… like the Woody Allen movie where he plays a hapless bank
    robber,,,… I like movies e.g. Laurel and Hardy… where everything goes wrong,
    like in a bad dream, but also like life, and you have to laugh and keep going, like
    the tortoise

    Ole for Great Movies, and great filmmakers like IHath!


  • ihath Post author

    Hello Rod,

    I have to say until two weeks ago, I felt exactly the same about graffiti,
    that it is ugly. However I am afraid that the movie had scrambled my brain
    and did something to it. That scene with the man spraying the paint on a
    train seemed so excitting, it was so physical, like he was dancing. Where before
    I saw meaningless ugliness, now I can imagine a happy man, jumping
    up and down with joy at taking back the city for a brief moment.

    I showed the movie to my kids, giving them a talk before
    about the fact that graffiti is illegal blah blah blah. All three of
    my kids enjoyed the movie – they thought it was funny. Afterwards, I asked
    my son if he would like to do graffiti and his answer was a definate NO! I
    asked him why? “Because it might hurt somebody’s feeling or upset
    somebody” was his exact answer. A part of me was happy with his answer,
    another part was not so sure. “Did I raise my children with too little anti-social behavior?”

    Since I watched the movie I have been taking pictures of graffiti whenever
    I see it. Here are a few that I captured

    Like you I felt deep sympathy with Mr. Brainwash. I found myself rooting
    for him. I was happy when his show was a success even though I didn’t like
    any of his art. My opinion of modern/urban art is very similar to your’s.
    In many ways, Mr. Brainwash is the every person, average guy. Full of
    silliness, follies yet ultimatly lovable. Yes time will tell if ihath is
    the rabbit or s tortoise.

  • Rod

    Yay ihath’s son!!

    Don’t worry that perhaps he is shy or timid… He is just weighing the complex set
    of events that all of our actions set into play… like the flap of a butterfly wing
    that causes the tornado on the other side of the world. “Mum … I know it is cute
    when a few artists break the rules but, Mum what if everyone decided to break the
    rules? Can you imagine what our house would look like if I and my sisters
    decided to buy some paint cans…How come you got mad at me with crayon marks when
    I was younger… and Mum I guess it is Ok for the neighbour kids to come over with
    paint and glue Murals, on our house… it is their creative freedom… and Dad could
    do some redecorating of the UBC buildings he works in with spray cans…Mum you are
    so right, the owners of things should not be the dictatorial owners of how those
    things are presented visually…

    By the way you should see what I did to the neighbour’s car, it is now pink like our
    house… also, I redecorated all of your clothes/shoes Mum, just run up and see all
    the cool changes I made to your flamenco dresses, … so now you can represent
    better all the issues that me and my school chums endorse… Yay Mum you have opened
    up freedom of expression, Hey Mum I am going to do your makeup, fingernail polish
    and hairstyle from now on. Why should you own your own image you present to the
    world…. and impose that image on us the Innocents, we will decide how you
    look…Mum oh Mum Oh Mum you have unlocked the Genie of Freedom, Off I go into the
    world Mum Yay Mum of the no rules, rebelling against a society she left, not
    realizing she can be all she can be, She can be Ms. Brainwash or Banksyetta and I
    will help her by rewriting editing her web site articles, I hope she does not think
    that she should own her own right to express her words… Her words are the peoples
    and should be subject to the peoples changes ”

    Also he knows (I am such and expert on him, having met him for so many hours, days
    and years) that there are so many legitimate ways of being brave and making
    statements and getting in trouble, that society allows/endorses… this is the West,
    anyone can make a splash, make speeches, make youtubes about Muhammad that shake the

    Hey … also I think there needs to be a differentiation between street art and

    Street art is cool, beautiful, provocative etc, and like many of your pics,
    presented on legit backdrops… e.g. construction fences, or in many cases, the
    building owners hire muralists etc.

    harmful graffiti is the ugly, depressing, vandalistic destructive stuff…

  • ihath

    Wow! Rod what a vivid imagination? Are you sure your are talking about my son? For a minute it seemed that you were talking about a long repressed childhood self. Perhaps your wife should check for paint cans undeneath the bed 🙂

    Yesterday, I was pondering the similarities between flamenco and graffiti. Flamenco comes from the gutter. It is the music of the poor, the outcasts, the illegals. It is supposed to be loud, vulgar, in your face, ugly, disturbing, unsettling, raw. And then people like us, corrupted by too many years of formal education and shackled too tightly by social refinement and good manners become interested in it.


    Are we corrupting the arte? Or is the arte freeing us?