Too Good To Be True? by Daniel Bergamini
It seems to me that recently, every time a documentary does well with mainstream audiences, its reality is called into question. While this can become tiresome, with last year’s Sundance hit Exit Through The Gift Shop there is good reason to be suspicious. On the surface, the film is an insider’s look at street art, however as the film goes on it becomes so much more, without ever being pretentious or preachy, something I was fairly certain this film would be.
The film is directed by the notorious and reclusive street-artist Banksy, which is in many ways the first clue that this film is not quite what it seems. Before going any further let me say that by questioning the honesty of this film, I will not be spoiling any of it.
As the film begins we meet the focus of the piece, Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant who is unable to put his camera down. Thierry is the perfect documentary subject; he is funny, honest and strange. His fascination with street-art becomes an obsession as he weasels his way into the scene, pretending that he is using this footage for a documentary. It is when he finally meets Banksy, that his fake documentary is exposed.
This is where the real subject matter for the film occurs, as Banksy asks for the thousands of hours of footage to make his own film, and leaves Guetta on a mission to become an artist in his own right. This is a wild goose chase of sorts that Banksy sends this man on, and the unexpected occurs.
As I mentioned before the film is neither pretentious nor preachy, and as someone who is opposed to graffiti, I found this quite refreshing. Most interesting of all, in many ways the film is critical of art and those involved in street-art. The film is not simply a look or critique of street-art but a critique of art in general and those who judge it. It calls into question what is good art, and what makes a true artist, as Guetta becomes an over-night success simply by imitating those around him.
During the film I tried to ignore the fact people were suspicious of whether or not it was real, however once the film was finished I couldn’t ignore this question any longer. It is not because the film seems fake, but rather because of the points and the questions the film makes that I think it is fake. The filmmaking in the documentary is quite conventional, delivering a very well-structured and entertaining film. In many ways it is a better film if it is in fact a put on, as the messages and points it is making become all the more powerful and interesting.
The difficult thing about this is that I do not believe the film is entirely fake, rather it is filming a put on by Banksy to make a point, similar to last year’s I’m Still Here. It begs the question on how I judge the film, whether or not I assume that I am right in my theory, or do I judge it as a completely truthful documentary. Unfortunately I cannot make a decision on that as I believe the film is not entirely fake, but not entirely truthful either.
The film is nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards, which may lead to one of the most interesting parts of the night. As the film has a good chance of winning, exactly who will accept the award is a question on many film fans’ minds. Will the world finally see Mr. Banksy?
Whether or not this film is a put on, doesn’t change the fact that the film is a documentary, it just changes the subject matter. It is also one of the rare documentaries that is accessible to almost anyone, as it first and foremost a very entertaining film with a lot to say. It is one of the films that I sincerely regret ignoring until now, as it is easily one of the best films of last year, and anyone holding out on seeing it is doing themselves a serious disservice.