Welcome to the Weekly Movie Thread, where we discuss movies we’ve watched recently, not-so recently../ at home, and on streaming.
This year we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Bansky’s Academy Award nominated documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s a movie that initially seems to be about graffiti artists, but inverts things around the half-way mark to ask: what qualifies as art, anyway?
Today’s bonus prompt: What is your favorite documentary or “based on a true story” film about real life unconventional dreamers?
There’s a weird subset of the documentary that I really enjoy and I don’t think it has a name. There are, of course, several different kinds of documentaries. Sometimes they’re to shed light on questionable practices, like Blackfish. Perhaps they’re there to inform, such as Atari: Game Over and its look at the 80’s video game crash. Sometimes they’re tone poems like Koyaanisquatsi.
The ones I’m talking about are closer to “slice of life” documentaries, but that doesn’t really cut it. They are about eccentrics following a strange passion that is inscrutable to everyday people but are so enthusiastic that you can’t help but be intrigued. I’m talking about movies like The Queen of Versailles.
There’s a bit of a reality show aspect to it. Certainly Jackie Siegel thought so when she invited a documentary crew to film her construction of a replica of the Palace of Versailles. But as the economy collapsed, even the living conditions of the super-wealthy tends to look depressingly familiar. The movie ends up being an allegory for the American Dream, centered around a woman with a goal as cartoonish as building a French Palace.
It’s not the only one. Sometimes they’re trying to get a record-breaking video game score as in The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Sometimes they’re playing weird psychological game with film students like in Shirkers. There’s Chris Smith’s film, American Movie, which follows an independent filmmaker from Milwaukee who attempts to make a film keep running into obstacles. And sometimes they’re trying to run a business based on polka and Scandanavian gifts like in The Man Who Would Be Polka King.
Then there’s Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s a movie that at first seems to be made by Thierry Guetta and uses his film footage of graffiti culture. But soon it turns into Guetta’s own quest to become a superstar graffiti artist under the handle “Mister Brainwash.” Shepard Fairey and Banksy conclude that they may have created a monster… and I’ve always wondered what they meant by that. There’s the obvious accusation that Guetta might be talentless. I think though, that the conclusion may be more profound: that his success proves that Fairey and Banksy are no better than Guetta.