Entertaining "documentary" from the popular British graffiti artist known only as Banksy. What Banksy – his face hidden in shadow, his voice distorted in post-production – explains to us at the beginning of the movie is that a strange, annoying little Frenchman named Thierry Guetta had been videotaping the world's great graffiti artists obsessively, and was going to make a documentary about them, and about Banksy in particular. But then Banksy found this odd little documentarian to be a far more interesting subject, and so he decided to make a film about Guetta instead.
What follows has its share of surprises that I dare not reveal, but the end result feels like the cinematic equivalent of Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, an experimental novel consisting of a long poem by a fictional poet, followed by footnotes on the poem by an equally fictional biographer, who ultimately uses said footnotes to unspool his own self-aggrandizing autobiography, interpreting the deeply personal meaning of a relative stranger's poem to serve his own ends.
At least with Pale Fire, you accept that it is a work of fiction from the mind of one author, Vladimir Nabokov. With Exit Through the Gift Shop, you just can't tell. It might be real. It might be a big put-on. Thierry Guetta may not even exist. I can only say that, if the film is a hoax, it's an extremely elaborate one, for many of the events depicted in the film took place in Los Angeles and I remember seeing evidence of the events at the time. The film rides the narrow line between "too good to be true" and "truth is stranger than fiction", and one has to keep in mind that Banksy is not just a clever artist but a legendary prankster.
No matter how real or fictional its content is, the film – again, like Pale Fire – is about the creative process, professional jealousy, and experimenting with art forms (whether it's graffiti or a documentary) to question the forms themselves. If that sounds too heady, rest assured that Exit Through the Gift Shop is, like Banksy's art, very accessible – even lighthearted. Actor Rhys Ifans' perky voiceover narration and a jazzy music score only add to the fun.