|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 4, 2011 at 10:20 PM|
The thing about publishing personal lists in ink is that they become definitive. Yet we all know lists and rankings are never set in stone, and certainly the same goes for the human brain. Our lives, our sensibilites, our likes and dislikes, even, are constantly shifting paradigms that fluctuate and morph day by day. I find myself constantly rearranging or adding to past lists of mine, as preferences and feelings are so dependent on mood and time. It's all very fluid. Even if my mind doesn't change about the value of a particular film, I'm constantly discovering new ones that make claims to lists I thought I had already finalized. How foolish of me - as long as there are still films to see, a list will never, ever be complete.
With that, I must bring up another special mention for my Best of 2010 list, this time the eccentric, enigmatic documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. Directed by famed (or notorious) street artist Banksy, this is a brilliant and bizarre look into an underground art movement that is polarizing in its tricky balance between criminality and artistic validity. The film would be interesting enough if it just observed the goings-on of this fascinating world, but Bansky is more crafty than that; instead, he views the action through a dimwitted French fellow named Thierry Guetta, who sets about to videotape the most famous street artists in an attempt to make permanent that which is terribly temperal. He does so, and does so so well the artists start to form genuine relationships with the man, using him to help with supplies and locate especially difficult spots to display their work. When Guetta comes across the most famous of them all, the British mysterio Banksy, his life changes in ways unexpected and unbelievable.
Guetta, by the end, a figure of questionable talent and even more questionable intelligence, manages to become a wildly successful icon worth millions. Our response to this is supposed to be one of bemused disgust. We're meant to question the credence of what we just saw, ask ourselves whether it was all one elaborate hoax or a stranger-than-fiction bit of undiluted reality. An indictment of celebrity in the 21st century, where everyone is seeking the attention of fame no matter their talent? A satire on what some are willing to consider art, or even more, what some are willing to pay for it when the hype around them is so persuasive? How through endless imitation, repitition, and exploitation art's very definition has become impossibly obscured? What makes Banksy's film so thought-provoking is what makes it such a worthy piece of art. Just as he does with his provocative street paintings, here he manages to evoke through his meta-methods a much larger, much more sprawling version of the same challenging ideas: that to make one think is perhaps in itself an art, and that the visual aesthetic, while important, is only the tip of an iceberg loaded with hidden subtext.