Under the railway arches on Leake Street by Waterloo station, Banksy had converted a large, dark and dank space into his cinema, the ironically nicknamed ‘Lambeth Palace’. Not usually somewhere I would choose to spend a sunny afternoon; there was hushed anticipation as a lucky selection of arts students queued outside a small door barely visible amidst the graffiti covered walls.
Once inside we were invited to look round some examples of the work that has catapulted Banksy to international fame. A fake bonfire ‘burned’ in one room and many of Banksy’s creations are fuelled by replicas of great works of art, among them portraits of Elizabeth I and Napoleon.
One piece showed a smiling Queen and Prince Phillip unveiling a piece of graffiti reading ‘Die Nazis,’ and we picked up some popcorn from the bashed up ice cream van which had previously been parked at Banksy’s extremely successful and free exhibition in Bristol last year.
The documentary itself was as surprising as the venue, brilliantly pieced together and really funny — the rowdy student audience was laughing out loud throughout.
Banksy who appeared on screen as a grim reaper figure with his black hoodie and face obscured by shadow, spoke with a strong Bristol accent despite the voice distortion, only adding to the comic effect. In fact throughout the documentary I frequently questioned whether we were perhaps all the butt of a particularly elaborate joke from the mysterious street artist — brilliantly executed but a joke all the same.
And indeed, the figure that steals the show, Frenchman Thierry Guetta, seems too good to be true — as Banksy says drolly “he’s more interesting than me”. Guetta, a compulsive and obsessive character, could have walked straight out of a story imagined by fellow Frenchman and director Michel Gondry. He films absolutely everything and takes his video camera everywhere but locks away his tapes without cataloguing or any desire to watch them back.
Thankfully Guetta’s obsessive need to film is put to use as he finds himself at the fore of an exploding trend in street art. He becomes an unlikely friend and documenter of some of the movement’s biggest stars, including the elusive Banksy.
I wholeheartedly recommend going to watch Exit Through the Gift Shop to see how the story pans out; unfortunately for you it will probably be in the regulation settings of a chain-owned cinema. You may miss out on some of the atmosphere provided by the trains rattling overhead and our battered up seats but the charm of this low budget documentary will not be diminished, offering a very enjoyable 90 minutes to everyone.