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Behind The Scenes: So 'Exit Through The Gift Shop' Started Out As A Lawsuit Against Mr. Brainwash?

The Playlist By Benjamin Wright | The Playlist September 8, 2011 at 6:31AM

So, the accepted wisdom is that street artist Banksy delivered a fantastic documentary last year entitled "Exit Through the Gift Shop," that had everybody talking about it as soon as it first debuted at Sundance. But the story didn't end there: even after garnering an Academy Award nomination and heaps of critical praise, a debate raged on for months as to whether the film was "real" or a hoax, partly because the story was too good to be true and partly because many assume anything that the prankster-ish Bansky does is disingenuous.
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So, the accepted wisdom is that street artist Banksy delivered a fantastic documentary last year entitled "Exit Through the Gift Shop," that had everybody talking about it as soon as it first debuted at Sundance. But the story didn't end there: even after garnering an Academy Award nomination and heaps of critical praise, a debate raged on for months as to whether the film was "real" or a hoax, partly because the story was too good to be true and partly because many assume anything that the prankster-ish Bansky does is disingenuous.

However, according to an recent interview with fellow street artist Ron English, who's perhaps best known for his portrait of a rotund Ronald McDonald, the film was entirely real. In an interview for his hometown rag The Herald Review (via /Film) detailing a mural he put up in the town of Decatur, Illinois, English claims the film started out as a lawsuit against Thierry Guetta, the enthusiastic street artist wannabe who follows the renowned Shepard Fairey and Bansky through the first half of the film, before the doc turns the cameras on Guetta's longing to be a vapid, mass-produced, faux street artist named Mr. Brainwash.

Here's what English has to say:

"Here’s what actually happened: when we first met Thierry, he was supposed to be making a movie about Shepard. He was filming Shepard all the time, wherever he went. They made a deal, 50/50, we’ll make a movie. They shot for five years doing this, Shepard in his Spiderman prime, leaping off buildings and stuff. At the end of five years, Shepard says 'Alright, let’s put the movie together,' and Thierry said 'I’m not giving you the footage.' He’s actually quite smart and can be a little devious -- he figured 'I just took away five years of your fame,' because in his heart, Thierry always wanted to be the artist. He figured he was messing up his competition, in a way, and holding onto valuable footage. Shepard didn’t quite know what to do and filed a lawsuit against Thierry.

Then Banksy figured 'I’m in the same situation, he has tons of footage for me.' He had some of the only footage of Banksy where you could actually see who he was. So he calls up Thierry and said 'I’m sending you a first-class ticket to London, get on the plane, I have to talk to you.' That’s when he told Thierry that he would make a movie about him instead, in exchange for the footage, which Thierry turned over to Banksy. That’s when they realized that the footage wasn’t nearly what they thought it might be, but it turns out they did get a different sort of treasure trove, because you’ve got a portrait of this weird guy, Thierry."

So Banksy and Fairey thought Guetta was going to ruin them on film, but then Banksy turned the cameras on Guetta to create a rousing critique of modern art? Sounds like a fair trade, and another intriguing twist in this already engaging story. It's as if Banksy has purposely created the career of Mr. Brainwash to be a walking, talking work of art.

As Badass Digest notes in the original posting of this news, it's just great that people are talking about this almost two years after the doc's debut, and the fact that the film lends itself to all sorts of interpretations and theories also points to its quality. English's interpretation seems a sound and reasonable explanation of the events that take place in the film, but we don't have any idea what Banksy thinks of it, and lacking that, we lack a definitive final word on the subject.

This article is related to: Documentarian, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Banksy


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