Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just Like Me

Huh. In one of those strange confluences of coincidence, Anthony Lane's review of Exit Through the Gift Shop references both Welles' F for Fake and Surrealism.(*) Although he ends up in a different place - he hates the flick, and I understand his feelings, but being from LA I found it pretty entertaining - what are the odds of both of us making the same arguments and supporting them with the same fairly obscure references?

In fact, I sympathize with his misgivings, but the part that I liked was its commentary on "the scene and scenesters." THAT is the true value of this flick, and having come up in LA and watching it evokes a feeling not unlike watching Spinal Tap. It's a joke - not necessarily satire - about a joke. The transparent commenting on co-modification is okay, though a well-worn re-tread, and yet, that's not his fault. It is, after all, the way the system works, trite as it is to point it out.

One other thing; I saw ETtGS with Renee and two of her friends. Afterwards I asked her friends if they thought it had significance that it took part mainly in LA. They didn't think so.

Back to Anthony Lane.

The Welles reference I get, as his thing, like mine, is movies. Still, even among movie heads, F for Fake is obscure.

The Surrealist reference is more improbable; the guy's 48, so Surrealism was for all intents and purposes a dead issue as a movement. Now, England did play a fairly major minor role back in the day, and they had an active coterie of English Surrealists who organized some pretty big shows with the participation of many of the French group, including Breton and Eluard. Fairly recently, I believe the Tate ran a show about a decade or so ago.

Smart dude, that Anthony Lane; haha, a transparent hat tip to myself, there. His excerpted review follows.


(*) The forever elegant Duchamp, though never formally a member, was a participant supporter and even curated some of their most famous shows, like the one where he glued coal sacks to the ceiling which created a weird and decidedly non-elegant setting to say the least.

Tzara, the Zurich dada boss before Surrealism was codified, was "awaited like the second coming" when the young, soon to be Surrealists courted him to Paris and they threw themselves into dada full force. It didn't last long; as the French group was steeped in the romantic tradition and interested in psychic explorations - this is Freud's time - dada's incessant nihilism wore on them. After the breach and formal organizing with the first Surrealist Manifesto in '24, Tzara - in a bit of weird symmetry - eventually re-joined them as a Surrealist. Thus, the father became the son.

The Current Cinema
Street Justice
“Kick-Ass” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”
by Anthony Lane

April 20, 2010

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Who made “Exit Through the Gift Shop”? No writer or director is credited, but it describes itself as “A Banksy Film.” To those of you who keep up with developments in street art less eagerly than you should, it must be explained that Banksy is not a derogatory adjective but the alias of an unspecified British artist who has indeed put art on the streets. His paintings and stencillings have won him a fan base of fashionable ardor, unceasingly piqued by his anonymity.

As if in tribute to that eel-like elusiveness, only a portion of “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is about the man himself. We see a cowled and low-lit figure, who speaks with a West Country burr. (This is the most derided of English accents, associated in the public ear with a rustic slowness, and splendidly out of kilter with the braying of the art world.) Banksy tells us about a guy who was trying to make a documentary about him, whereupon—hey, presto!—the rest of the movie turns around and follows that guy. He is Thierry Guetta, though he pronounces his first name “Terry,” thus becoming one of the few Frenchmen in history to prefer his Anglicized self. Even his mustache betrays a Victorian luxuriance; “He looked like something out of the eighteen-sixties,” as Banksy says.

Guetta explains that, living in Los Angeles, with his wife and children, he became interested in, then addicted to, the hit-and-run world of street art. He made friends with a number of artists, whether they wanted befriending or not, and filmed them with a handheld video camera as they worked. Eventually, the road led to Banksy, for whom Guetta became a partner in crime—accompanying him to Disneyland, where Banksy placed an inflatable doll resembling a hooded inmate at Guantánamo next to a ride, causing Guetta to endure hours of unamused questioning by the authorities. Even this failed to sate him, and the latter half of the movie shows him deciding to cross over and become an artist himself, like a war reporter picking up a gun. The joke is that he has no discernible gift, save a knack for self-advertisement; the more depressing joke is that this crumb of talent turns out to be enough. He calls himself Mr. Brainwash, and fills an abandoned television studio with sub-Warholian dreck of his own devising. Art scavengers, lured by the smell of publicity, line up, open the jaws of their wallets, and feast.

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” could and should have been an excoriating work. It isn’t often that I wish a high-minded Marxist had been in charge of a motion picture, but who else would you trust with the spectacle of subversive activity being commandeered, and fetishized, by the capitalist machinery that it was meant to undermine? This doesn’t apply just to Guetta, who still believes, bless him, that rehashed images of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis retain the power to mock and shock, and who, long before the movie is done, dwindles from a doting eccentric into a tiring bore; it also applies to Banksy himself, or, at any rate, to the moment when his paintings found their way onto the walls of Sotheby’s. To forge a million pounds’ worth of fake British banknotes, with the Queen’s head replaced by that of Diana, Princess of Wales, is a definable feat of guerrilla art. But to have your print of Kate Moss sold by a London auction house for ninety-six thousand pounds of real money, whatever you choose to do with it, means that you have been press-ganged from the street where you roamed free.

As a study in prankhood, this Banksy film can’t touch “F for Fake,” Orson Welles’s 1974 movie about an art forger. Welles both conspired with his untrustworthy subject and held him at arm’s length, like a conjurer with his rabbit, and you came out dazzled by the sleight, whereas “Exit Through the Gift Shop” feels dangerously close to the promotion of a cult—almost, dare one say it, of a brand. Nothing by Banksy or his acolytes would have been remotely alarming to Marcel Duchamp, or to Tristan Tzara; what would have struck them was the means by which a Banksy image can be reproduced—the sudden velocity at which its impact can travel, whether online or through the eyes of a hundred cell phones. That is what binds “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” unexpectedly, to “Kick-Ass”: the sense, both arousing and disconcerting, that, whatever you want to be, whether it’s an artist, a superhero, or a mystery man, all you need is the nerve to exhibit that desire. Then hit Send.

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