This is not just the definitive portrait of street-art counterculture, but also a hilarious exposé of the gullibility of the masses who embrace manufactured creative personas. Though it's credited as a Banksy picture—as in the ever-elusive UK graffiti ninja—the film begins with him as its on-camera subject. Banksy's talking head appears faceless under a dark hood to help explain how the role reversal occurred. The real "director" of most of the footage herein is Thierry Guetta, an eccentric French expat in Los Angeles who began videotaping his cousin—the mosaic artist Invader—on his night bombing missions. From there, Guetta earned the trust of DIY art notables Banksy, Swoon, and Shepard Fairey, whom Guetta meets on camera at a Kinko's as Fairey's printing out enlarged copies of his notorious "André the Giant Has a Posse" designs. The irony of creating art with tools from a commercial franchise is not lost on Fairey, who admits that his logos "gain real power from perceived power." Without ruining the late-breaking surprises, the impact of Fairey's quote sharply resonates after Guetta rechristens himself as the artist "Mr. Brainwash," exploiting his connections for his first solo exhibition, an inexplicably successful event aided by an LA Weekly cover story that inspired frothing among gallery patrons. Too clever to dismiss as another recycled joke on the inanity of modern art, Exit is strangely inspirational. Go on—pick up an aerosol can, paint yourself an empire, and see if we call your bluff.
One of Banksy's iconic rat stencils.
Opens at Harvard Exit, Fri., April 23. Rated PG-13. 95 minutes.