Documentaries are difficult to judge, and the more and more I see the less I really know how to critique them. It seems like even the most poorly edited, lazily made documentary can be fascinating if it's based on the right subject matter. On the other hand, one watches a movie like "The Cove" (a brilliant, brilliant documentary), which not only features a compelling topic, but is wonderfully crafted, and realizes how effective the documentary can be.
I felt like I really witnessed something like that when watching "Exit Through the Gift Shop". The film is a documentary directed by infamous street artist Banksy, which begins by seemingly being a documentary about the general street art movement and then moves seamlessly into the biography of "Mr. Brainwash" - formerly Thierry Guetta, a compulsive cameraman who previously followed and filmed street artists and then became himself an overnight sensation in the art world.
What makes "Exit" work is that does everything that a documentary should do, and it does it perfectly. First of all, it features a very interesting and little-known topic (the world of street art). Secondly, it also spotlights two extremely complex people - Thierry (who is easily one of the most interesting figures in this year of cinema) and of course, Banksy himself. Finally, it is perfectly edited, a must for any documentary. The film seamlessly blends footage of the creative process of the street art, talking head interviews, and narrative content to create a fast moving, constantly absorbing 86 minutes that, while tackling several topics, never once becomes unfocused.
Unlike this year's other famous doc "Catfish", which was certainly entertaining and compelling in its own way, "Exit Through the Gift Shop" does not rely on any gimmick to keep the viewer interested - it succeeds solely on its quality as a film and its perfectly highlighted subject. Of course, there is the ever-circulating question of its validity. I personally think that it's real - however, like I said about "Catfish", even if it wasn't, it would still be a fantastic film that not only educates but makes an interesting statement on what art really is. And did I mention that it's actually extremely funny as well?
I know it's been said time and time again by bloggers, audiences and the critics' awards groups but I'll add my accolades to the pile - "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is ridiculously interesting and a true testament to what a documentary should be.
See it: if you're interested in art, great documentary filmmaking, human psychology, or mysterious British dudes.
Skip it: if you think street artists are vandalizing punks. Grrrr.
(By the way everyone I'm trying something new with the "see it skip it" thing. I'm thinking about making it a consistent review feature. Like? Dislike? Opinions below!)