Exit Through the Gift Shop

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Exit Through the Gift Shop
Directed byBanksy
Produced byJaimie D'Cruz
Mr. Brainwash
Shepard Fairey
Narrated byRhys Ifans
Edited byChris King
Tom Fulford
Music byGeoff Barrow
Paranoid Pictures
Distributed byRevolver Entertainment
Release date
  • 5 March 2010 (2010-03-05)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$5.3 million

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a 2010 British documentary film directed by street artist Banksy. It tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles who, over the course of several years, filmed a host of street artists at work, including Shepard Fairey and Banksy, but failed to do anything with the footage. Eventually, Banksy decided to use the footage to make a documentary, which includes new footage depicting Guetta's rise to fame as the artist "Mr. Brainwash". In addition to narration read by Rhys Ifans, the story is largely related by Banksy himself, whose face is obscured and voice altered to preserve his anonymity. Geoff Barrow composed the film's score, and Richard Hawley's "Tonight The Streets Are Ours" plays during the opening and closing credits.[1] The film premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival on 24 January 2010, and it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 83rd Academy Awards.

Since its release, there has been extensive debate over whether the film is a genuine documentary or a mockumentary. When asked if the film is real, Banksy simply replied: "Yes."[2]


His face obscured in shadow and his voice altered, Banksy tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant living in Los Angeles who ran a successful upscale vintage clothing shop and obsessively filmed his life. While visiting France in 1999, Guetta discovered his cousin was the street artist Invader. Fascinated, he accompanied Invader and his friends, who included Monsieur André and Zevs, on their nocturnal adventures, documenting everything.

A few months later, Invader visited Guetta in LA and arranged a meeting with Shepard Fairey. Guetta continued to film Fairey after Invader returned to France, and when Fairey asked what Guetta planned to do with the footage, Guetta said he was going to make a documentary about street art. He followed Fairey as Fairey traveled the world executing the OBEY Giant campaign, and filmed numerous artists at work, among them Poster Boy, Seizer, Neck Face, Sweet Toof, Cyclops, Ron English, Dotmasters, Swoon, Azil, Borf, and Buff Monster. No one suspected Guetta just liked to film things and had no intention of making a film out of the footage, which he never watched.

Guetta became obsessed with filming the mysterious Banksy, but could not arrange an introduction. Then, in spring 2006 Banksy visited LA without his usual accomplice, so he contacted Fairey, who recommended Guetta would make a good guide. Things went well, and Banksy invited Guetta to England to film the production and deployment of his "Murdered Phone Booth" piece, plus the crowd reaction. This confused Banksy's crew, but Banksy saw value in documenting street art, which typically has a "short lifespan". After Guetta returned home, he began to put up his own stickers and posters.

When Banksy was back in LA preparing for his "Barely Legal" show, he took Guetta to Disneyland to film the reaction after he deployed an inflatable doll dressed like a Guantanamo Bay detainee there. Guetta was noticed and interrogated by security, but he was able to stash his videotape in his sock and delete his still photographs, so he was released after four hours. Following this, Banksy trusted Guetta implicitly.

"Barely Legal" was a huge success, and the price of street art began to rocket in auction houses. Banksy was stunned by the sudden hype and urged Guetta to finish his documentary to show what the movement was really about. Over the next six months, Guetta formed his several thousand hours of footage into a film titled Life Remote Control, which was an unfocused 90 minutes of disorienting fast cutting. Banksy deemed it "unwatchable", but felt the street art footage itself was valuable, and decided to try to produce a film himself, casually suggesting Guetta go home, make some art, and put on a show.

"I think the joke is on... I don’t know who the joke is on, really. I don’t even know if there is a joke."

— Banksy's former spokesman Steve Lazarides

Adopting the name "Mr. Brainwash", Guetta mortgaged his business and home to rent equipment, hire a production team to create art under his supervision, and rent the 15,000 square-foot former-CBS Studios complex for his first show, "Life Is Beautiful". Banksy became worried things were out of control and sent some professionals to help. They took care of the show's practical considerations, while Guetta focused on publicity. He got quotes from Fairey and Banksy, after which the LA Weekly did a cover story about the show, but he still had not chosen which of his team's works he wanted to include. The press led private art collectors to call Guetta about buying pieces before the opening, and he quoted prices of tens of thousands of dollars.

The day of the opening, the nearly 200 paintings finally arrived to be hung, but Guetta was busy giving interviews, so the crew decided where to put them. The doors opened, and over 4,000 people saw the show that day. Almost a million dollars' worth of Guetta's art was sold the first week of the show, which was extended by two months, and his pieces were included in shows and galleries around the world. The success of Mr. Brainwash confused Banksy and Fairey, who found Guetta derivative and unready for the world stage, but Guetta insisted time would tell whether or not he was a real artist. The closing titles reveal Guetta went on to create the cover artwork for Madonna's hits collection Celebration.


About the film's arduous editing process, Banksy said: "I spent a year [...] watching footage of sweaty vandals falling off ladders",[3] and "The film was made by a very small team. It would have been even smaller if the editors didn't keep having mental breakdowns. They went through over 10,000 hours of Thierry's tapes and got literally seconds of usable footage out of it."[4] Producer Jaimie D'Cruz wrote in his production diary that obtaining the original tapes from Guetta was particularly complicated.

Release and reception[edit]

Film industry veterans John Sloss and Bart Walker founded a new distribution company, Producers Distribution Agency (PDA), to release the film in the US,[5] and the company employed a unique grassroots promotional campaign. The film earned $3.29 million at the American box office,[6] and Oscilloscope Laboratories released it on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011.[7]

The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an approval rating of 96% based on 116 reviews, with an average rating of 8.10/10; the site's "critics consensus" reads: "An amusing, engrossing look at underground art, Exit Through the Gift Shop entertains as it deflates the myths and hype surrounding its subjects."[8] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[9] French journalist Marjolaine Gout gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, while linking Mr. Brainwash to Jeff Koons and criticizing Thierry Guetta's work as "artistic toilet papering".[10]

At the 83rd Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature.[11] The New York Film Critics Online bestowed its Best Documentary Award on the film in 2010.

Hoax speculation[edit]

One consistent theme in reviews of the film was whether or not it was an elaborate ruse by Banksy, and. For example, Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times wrote that the film "could be a new subgenre: the prankumentary",[12] while Ty Burr of The Boston Globe, who found the film to be quite entertaining and awarded it four out of four stars, dismissed the notion of it being a "put on", writing: "I'm not buying it; for one thing, this story's too good, too weirdly rich, to be made up. For another, the movie's gently amused scorn lands on everyone."[13] Roger Ebert, who gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, wrote: "The widespread speculation that Exit Through the Gift Shop is a hoax only adds to its fascination."[14]

In an interview with SuicideGirls, producer Jaimie D'Cruz and editor Chris King denied the film was a hoax and expressed their growing frustration with speculation it was. King said: "For a while we all thought that was quite funny, but it went on for so long. It was a bit disappointing when it became basically accepted as fact, that it was all just a silly hoax I felt it was a shame that the whole thing was going to be dismissed like that really – because we knew it was true." Cruz said: "It pisses me off when you read in serious newspapers that the film is a mockumentary. That's not true."[15]

For his part, Guetta said: "This movie is 100% real. Banksy captured me becoming an artist. In the end, I became his biggest work of art."[16]

Copyright issues[edit]

Following the release of the film, Glen Friedman, an American photographer,[17] sued Guetta over his use of a photograph of the rap group Run-DMC taken by Friedman.[18] Though Guetta claimed he had altered the original image enough for the result to be considered an original piece of art, the presiding judge, Judge Pregerson, ruled Friedman's photograph was protected under the transformative fair use law.[citation needed] Guetta also faced copyright claims from Joachim Levy, a Swiss filmmaker who edited and produced Guetta's film Life Remote Control,[19] clips of which were included in Exit Through the Gift Shop, as Levy was not credited for his work, but Guetta owned the footage, which was licensed to Banksy.[19]

Archival footage[edit]

The film's opening montage includes archival footage from the following street art films: Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe, Infamy, Inside Outside, Next The Movie, Open Air, The Lyfe, Popaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English, Rash, Restless Debt of the Third World, Spending Time with Poster Boy, Turf War, Elis G The Life of a Shadow, Memoria Canalla, C215 in London, and Beautiful Losers.[20]


  1. ^ Willmore, Alison, "Exit Through The Gift Shop: It's a madhouse, this modern life", The Independent Eye, IFC reviews of the Sundance Film Festival, 27 January 2010
  2. ^ "Frequently asked questions". Archived from the original on 3 January 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  3. ^ Kylie Northover (29 May 2010). "Drawn from the shadows, wanted man comes out to play". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. ^ Shelley Leopold. "Banksy Revealed?".
  5. ^ ""Exit" Strategy: Bringing Banksy to the Masses". Indiewire. 7 April 2010.
  6. ^ "Box office results". Box Office Mojo.
  7. ^ "Oscilloscope to Release Banksy DVD". Variety.
  8. ^ "Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 30 September 2022.
  9. ^ "Exit Through the Gift Shop Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  10. ^ "Review of Exit Through the Gift Shop". Écran large (in French).
  11. ^ "Oscar nominations 2011: Complete list of Academy Award nominees". The Washington Post. 25 January 2011. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  12. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette, "On the Street, at the Corner of Art and Trash", The New York Times, 16 April 2010.""Exit" could be a new subgenre: the prankumentary. Audiences, however, would be advised simply to enjoy the film on its face – even if that face is a carefully contrived mask."
  13. ^ Burr, Ty, "Exit Through the Gift Shop: Writing’s on the wall: In ‘Exit,’ street art scene becomes a farce", The Boston Globe, 23 April 2010
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (28 April 2010). "Exit Through the Gift Shop movie review (2010)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  15. ^ "Jaimie D'Cruz and Chris King: Exit Through the Gift Shop". Suicide Girls. 14 December 2010. Archived from the original on 15 February 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  16. ^ Felch, Jason, "Getting at the truth of 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'", Los Angeles Times, 22 February 2011.
  17. ^ Friedman, Glen, Glen E. Friedman#Books and exhibitions with significant Friedman contributions (partial listing)4
  18. ^ Run DMC Photograph.
  19. ^ a b The New York Times, Life Remote Control footage lawsuit
  20. ^ Credits, 'Archival footage', Exit Through the Gift Shop.

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