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Day 19: 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'

Three things on Day 19:

a) Five pounds heavier since starting out three weeks ago, I now place popcorn on indefinite moratorium.
b) 5-hour energy shots are also banned. That extra pit-a-pat of the heartbeat just can't be good.
c) Get thee moviegoers to Exit Through the Gift Shop asap - it's the most enertaining movie of summer 2010...so far.

At this point on my movie journey, drowsiness is a constant state of being. I'm at work, in a dark movie theater, writing this blog, or explaining to my friends why I can't make the Jack Johnson concert. Some people write fast after a screening. Some have to edit a lot before they hit send. I'm most definitively in the latter group.

I can, though, now tell how a film works by my level of acute drowse-osity in the first 20 minutes. If I'm wide awake, it's Oscar worthy. If I'm semi-sleepy, it could still be good but my 40 hours in a theater is affecting my cinematic objectivity. If I'm fighting off Mr. Sandman tooth, foot and nail, well, it most assuredly sucks.

Exit -- in theory -- is a documentary from a Frenchman who owns an L.A. clothing store, never puts down his video camera, and is obssessed with graffitti street art. The movie begins as a guerilla video shoot documenting esteemed Shepard Fairey (who created the "Obey Giant" and Obama "Hope" stickers) and elusive Banksy, known for his hip, cool art stunts (e.g. - a real, live painted pink elephant in the middle of his opening L.A. gallery show). This videographer, Frenchman Thierry Guetta, is loyal to his graffitti-tagging subjects, including a cousin named Invader whose specialty is placards in the form of Space Invader characters.

On the sleep-o-meter, the film ranks only slightly above Sandman status at the outset. But, it then pulls a fascinating fast one. See, the movie's not really about Fairey or Banksy at all, and it's not directed by Guetta, who logged hours of exclusive video but never bothered to watch any of it. When Banksy prompts him to turn his footage into a documentary, the project Guetta actually produces is a schizoid hodgepodge crafted by some unholy Michael Bay clone on steroids.

The film we are watching -- Exit -- is directed by Banksy himself and is a document of crazy man Guetta, who returns to L.A., tries his own hand at becoming a street artist, and somehow fools the entire city into thinking he's a maverick codenamed "Mr. Brainwash." That guy - who simply takes his idols' works (Andy Warhol being a favorite) and splashes globs of paint around the edges - pulls the wool over young L.A. to the tune of $1 million and counting. He also ends up being commissioned to design Madonna's album cover.

All of which leaves Banksy and Fairey, culpable in the mess (they did provide quotes for their self-promoting friend), completely mystified. Admits the director, "I guess art's a bit of a joke." It is a funny one, though, as this wacky dude with little talent bumbles forward into success on par with his heroes. Also, can you truly blame someone named "Mr. Brainwash"? I say tomato. Madonna says album cover.

Film critics have been pondering whether the whole thing is an elaborate hoax. But I remember that L.A. Weekly cover. And if it is a ruse pulled off by a gifted artist and new filmmaker, then it's a supremely funny one worth being played.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

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