Banksy speaks about Exit, Thierry/Brainwash, and filmmaking

banksy.jpg When British street artist Banksy released his debut film Exit Through The Gift Shop it was interesting to see how much skepticism it met with among audiences and critics— many people instantly assumed it must be the punchline of a massive meta-prank. Understandable, given some of his history. But I knew many of the people in the film personally, and I knew it was completely legit.

(Backstory: I co-ran an art gallery and for many years worked closely with Shepard Fairey and Invader, and Thierry Guetta aka Mister Brainwash aka MBW was around frequently, camera in hand).

When talking to people about the film I constantly found myself trying to prove that Thierry really existed, which was amusing in its own right. Recently Banksy himself spoke with All These Wonderful Things about making the film, and some of the issues surrounding the project:

Thierry's entertainment potential wasn't difficult to spot - he actually walks into doors and falls down stairs. It was like hanging out with Groucho Marx but with funnier facial hair. Thierry arrived at a point when my world was becoming infested with hipsters and heavy irony, so his exuberant man-child innocence was fun to be around. Maybe I convinced myself Thierry was a good subject just because I liked him. I'd be lying if I told you the first time I met him I thought 'this man's life will deliver a good narrative arc'.

It's a great interview filled with some fantastic insight, well worth checking out. Story Link.


  1. MBW is fairly obviously a collaboration of Banksy and Shep Fairey,I love the movie.I think it’s funny how Banksy says he couldn’t make up MBW, C’mon now…the guy is plain old brilliant.

    I think Banksy should come paint my house.

    1. That’s kind of my point, he isn’t in anyway. He blatantly copied them and had enough that they wanted from him to seem involved, but I know he’s not someone either of them would have tried to create. And knowing him before, during, and since this all happened, I’m positive no one is pulling his strings.

  2. I loved Exit…. I thought it perfectly encapsulated everything that is right and everything that is wrong with the Art World. And the Mr. Brain Wash show? Only in L.A., man. Only in El Lay.

  3. I think in this context, “completely legit” is a nonsense description. Theirry may be more or less real (not sure what that even means) but that doesn’t mean Bansky, as director, didn’t have a directing influence on the story arc. The article makes me question the legitness even more, what with the Jack Benny comment and giving as evidence that it wasn’t scripted the fact that Bansky didn’t have “better lines.” The movie is genius.

    1. You’ve ever seen ‘F is for Fake’? It’s about art forgery.

      Welles guarantees his audience that it’s all 100% true. There’s even a placard at the beginning. And, for an hour, it is (or, it is based on real people).

      Then, Welles launches into an additional half hour that’s totally fabricated.

      That’s how I see this movie. A truthy pastiche in the first 3/4ths, but the last quarter is a fugazie. For one thing, it’s so obviously inspired by ‘F is for Fake’ that it HAS to be fictionalized.

  4. Part of the reason the film doesn’t seem trustworthy is you never see Thierry creating any art at all. The film shows this bumbling Inspector Clouseau-esque wanna-be filmmaker who suddenly jumps from behind the camera to hosting a major gallery show.

    There’s definitely something that’s not being shown, and it seems strange that such an interesting and vital piece of the story would be left out unless it were fictional.

    1. That’s because Thierry never makes art, he hired people to make it. I think they show that pretty clearly in the film?

      1. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, so I’ll take your word for it. But is it possible one of the people he hired was Bansky?

        The other missing link with Thierry — it’s mentioned that he used to run a vintage clothing store in LA. Despite a solid hour of Googling, I could not find any information about Thierry’s store. No mention on Yelp or anything. Any idea what store it is/was?

        1. I’m sorry, but did you see the film? A lot of it is devoted to Thierry hiring artists to help him for his big show. They cover him finding people on craigslist, getting people who have worked with friends, him giving them crazy directions, marking up books with ideas to copy, and all of them getting frustrated as the show opens as he’s more interested in giving an interview.

          1. After seeing Exit, I did some Googling and Torrent site searches looking for MBW’s “Life Remote Control”. That’s when it became apparent that the whole shebang was a hoax and that there probably isn’t a real 90 minute film to watch, which is really disappointing.

            At least I had an IRL ROTFL moment with MBW’s explanation of “Bat Pappy”.

  5. What I got from the film is the intense disgust Banksy has with the art world. Collectors were buying up his work so they can be a part of the latest fashionable trend while completely ignoring their driving message. Mister Brainwash is the perfect character to expose their shallowness. He creates nothing but empty derivative art, and they all eat it up. It’s too perfect not to be orchestrated.

  6. Wow, I’m surprised the debate isn’t raging more. I love Banksy enough to have gotten to the end of the movie having ignored the internal voice cautioning me from believing the story whole. For whatever reason, that voice spoke loudest with respect to MBW breaking his leg. TOO perfect. The movie needed dramatic tension, and then, dum, dum dum . . . And so when I discussed with friends afterwards, we agreed, for multiple reasons, there’s no way it was real. And yet here is BoingBoing, another loved and trusted source, telling me it was real after all. So hard to know.

    Regardless, I like the idea that it wasn’t a prank at all – but that in fact the pranksters got a taste of something like their own medicine. And that now, all the people they think are dumb sheep have wised up and started asking questions. Too bad the questions are all about a movie, and not a why we’re fighting two (functionally three) wars, or why our media is so obsessed with the middle east.

  7. Tangentially related: Paul F. Tompkins does a pretty funny Mr Brainwash impression (in conversation with his impression of the Cake Boss) on his podcast – I think episode 4 or 5.

    1. Paul F. Tompkins also appeared on episode 70 of Comedy Death Ray Radio as Mr. Brainwash, and was hilarious.

  8. This is crazy. I just watched this last night finally for the first time.

    The one thing I found disappointing in the movie was that all the artists had been letting this guy film them for years in the hopes of getting a great documentary out about the origins of their street art. And we see that there are hundreds of thousands of hours of footage.

    But I feel like we barely see any of this footage, and we certainly don’t get a documentary about street art. Which is fine for this movie — Banksy and Co chose to make it about MBW instead. But is anyone going to take that footage and make the documentary that all the artists were hoping for?

    As for the legitimacy. I had my doubts, but I’m happy taking Sean’s word for now. (Funnily, I also know one of the producers of the film, who works with Banksy, but I had no particular reason to take his word even though he’s a closer friend…). The one part that seemed unbelievable to me was the “documentary” that MBW was said to have produced. It simply seems impossible to me that anyone could have created that jumbled noise of video and keep it going to 90 minutes, no matter how bad of a film maker they were supposed to be. That just seemed to be a impossibly over-the-top stereotype of a terrible filmmaker, and didn’t seem real to me. But, not knowing MBW, I guess who am I to say?

  9. So we’re supposed to believe that the film is “real” because Banksy, whose entire career has been about pranking the world, now tells us that it’s really, really real? I saw the film and loved it, but nothing could possibly convince me that it was an unscripted documentary.

    Example: When Thierry falls off the ladder and breaks his leg, the fall is shown in a series of still photos. Who was holding that still camera? If the shots are stills from the video, why wasn’t the actual video used? My guess: Because Thierry isn’t a terribly convincing stuntman.

    Example 2: Thierry’s early attempt at video editing that he thought would be wonderfully received by the art community. That was objectively, empirically awful. That wasn’t an art video–it was a satire of terrible art videos. (And an excellent one.)

    Finally, Thierry was simply too perfect a caricature of the goofy, ineffectual, lovable bumbler to be believable. There’s no way that the Thierry portrayed in the movie could have run a business or raised a family, any more than a Labrador Retriever could.

    The movie was another prank in Banksy’s catalog. A really good prank, but still a prank.

    1. If you think that Banksy’s entire career is based on pranking the world, you haven’t seen much of his stuff.

      1. You’re right, I haven’t seen “much” of his stuff, and I probably overstated the case there. But I’ve seen enough of his stuff to find it 100% believable that he’d fake this project.

        1. Many of the people who are crying fake are doing so on their own hunches. The evidence cited is pretty tangential such as a failed google search for a torrent and analysis of a fall.

          For myself and seeing a lot of Banksy’s work my main hunch is that this just isn’t his style. I don’t see a cohesive thread of what he’s done and trying to fake people with this movie.

          But there’s no arguing hunches, really, so I’ll go with what Sean Bonner said above about his own experiences. I doubt he has any reason to lie about this.

          There’s also the really old footage in the movie from several years ago. If it’s a con, it’s a really long con.

  10. I hope nobody is suggesting that Thierry was created from whole cloth. If he wasn’t, then he isn’t an actor, he’s an autonomous individual. How much would he allow himself to be manipulated for some prank of Banksy’s given that he has an actual life to live and a reputation to maintain?

    Also, the scene showing Thierry’s hoard of tapes sticks out in my mind as being very unlikely to be fake. The sheer number of cassettes and the built-over-time storage and organization seem very real.

  11. I have to say my Bullshitometer was raging during this movie. The thing is, what if some or all of this is make-believe? Wouldn’t that make about as much sense as Banksy directing an M. Night Shamalan style twistaplot cliche?

    I think the thing that was bothering me was the overarching BS that’s right there on camera. Thierry was the faker and he wasn’t trying to hide it at all; he was standing at the top of the mountain waiving his arms in the air, waiting to be called out and whether or not he was smart enough to see it, calling out the whole world of Dbags that embraced him.

    Truth really does trump fiction about 99.9% of the time.

  12. Banksy pretty much told us what this movie was up to in the “Lady Di money” scene in the film.

    As for the real/hoax argument, I think a lot of headaches could be avoided if everybody just acknowledged that, yes Virginia, ALL documentaries contain a mixture of truths and fabrication. This one might just have a little more than usual in the mix.

  13. Love the conspiracy theory-style ponderings. Throughout his ‘career’, Banksy has managed to play with the media, the art industry and the public while remaining anonymous. I am confident that he’ll keep the details of this one nailed down pretty well too.

    I do have a friend who bought and MBW work before the movie was announced, so there is at least some truth in there.

  14. What is admirable to me is the steadfast assertions by many of the posters here that the movie is not a completely accurate representation of the evolution of Thierry Guetta/MBW… assertions I agree with. As pointed out by many before me, the following simply doesn’t add up:

    * History of “success” with his clothing store – No mention of the name and nobody can seem to find any reference to this store, no old footage of Thierry there, foreshadowing commentary of finding unique clothing and massively overcharging for it, and the damning evidence in my mind… the hilarious and over-the-top footage of the hipsters shopping at this store.

    * Foot breaking montage and wheelbarrow/roller crutch ridiculousness – An effective plot twist, this sequence provided slapstick humor, introduced the “help” he would receive to pull off the show, and allowed us our only glimpse of a realistic mindset as Thierry is under the influence of pain killers (made obvious by the narrator).

    * Documentary attempt – Again, another plot twist that supposedly gives Banksy access to Thierry’s footage, while introducing a reason for his foray into creating the art show. This dark and cliche’d film is a complete contradiction to the warm and fuzzy simpleton we have grown accustomed to, and is clearly a subtle jab at crappy art film directors.

    * Magnitude of “Life is Beautiful” – It is simply not possible that Thierry would have been able to start planning his breakout show without significant help from experienced promoters early on. There are way too many moving parts and details involved, and the only explanation provided is that Thierry mortgaged his home and business to pay for it. While the testimonial quotes were explained in a believable fashion, clearly Banksy vouched for MBW in many more ways not shown on the film that provided a great deal of credibility and helped perpetuate the hype alluded to.

    In summary, the film is highly entertaining, takes the viewer on an unpredictable adventure, and introduces a number of likable, unique characters while simultaneously providing a bit of a glimpse into the graffiti/street artist world.

    I do not doubt that Thierry Guetta was a real-life character that was involved in the scene for many years, and believe much of his footage of events that transpired to be authentic… the Kinkos scene with Fairey is a classic example that couldn’t be faked based on Fairey’s youth. The accuracy of the tale begins to unravel during the justification of Thierry’s documentary attempt and the subsequent portrayal of him producing an extremely successful art show. My guess, along with many others, is that Banksy is reminding the world that art cannot and should not be commercialized, and provided this reminder in a format that invokes great discussion among all walks of life. True genius indeed, and the argument of whether some aspects were embellished or made up only enhance the dialogue on this topic.

    If I were to guess, I’d hope me might see further insight after the Academy Awards are announced, however there is no predictability when it comes to Banksy, so I’m not holding my breath…

    1. “…art cannot and should not be commercialized…”

      Art has ALWAYS been commercialized. Like it or don’t, commercialization is what makes much of what we understand to be art possible in the first place. I take the film as part of Banksy’s commentary on that very tension. That tension is the interesting thing, not one perspective or the other.

      Is the doc real? That is besides the point, but no. Hell no, fuck no, not a chance. Banksy has been fucking with us as long Banksy was Banksy. He’s a pro, and we’re the schnooks.

      1. To clarify, by being commercialized, I’m referencing the mass production/outsourcing/”unique” screen print dilemma faced by MBW.

  15. mass production/outsourcing/”unique” screen print dilemma

    You mean like Andy Warhol was doing forty-odd years ago?

  16. In 1999 I cut a documentary (karaoke Fever) in offices we rented from Tierry above his clothing store on La Brea. We always knew him as that crazy French man – he showed us video of himself going up to random people and barking like a dog. I remember one day pointing out that Invader had posted a piece on the side of the building and he told me that Invader was his cousin.

    That being said I don’t consider Exit Through the Gift Shop a documentary but rather an essay on art vs. commerce and that Bansky used Thierry as his Eliza Doolittle to make his point.

  17. Check the credits, y’all. If Theirry had so many hours of footage from so many years, why was footage from so many other street art documentaries used?

  18. I think that this is the point. Not that I’m bothered at all what the point is cos that’s far too silly to work out. What has been created is a couple of different things. One – a movie that some people can look at and go “well, that’s a nice insight to a hip and happening art world.” and Two – some huge lengthy debate about whether it is real or not.

    It will never be more than it is. Somehow as people we have to be happy with that and try to stop unravelling whether something is real or whether we understand it.

    Let’s just stop and enjoy it.

  19. Just watched ETTGS and loved it. whether or not Banksy or MBW are real people, fake, or one and the same, with regards to the movie: Banksy is an artist, MBW is a con artist.

  20. After reading everyone’s comments here I have to wonder why everyone’s so bunched up over whether Thierry is real or whether the whole thing is a hoax. The point seems to be that a story like this could happen and very possibly continues to happen every day in the art world. I happen to be a Banksy fan, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out the value of some art pieces I see going for megabucks out there in the market.

    Whether the film is factual or not doesn’t matter. The fact that a sucker’s born every minute is what matters. And there are plenty of them in the art world.

    Rob Frankel

  21. Towards the end of ETTGS, one of the street artists was unsure of who the real joke is on.

    The beauty with this idea to me is that either way, there IS a joke. Either:

    A) Thierry Guetta is a real ass guy who got to watch the best of the best do their work for years and picked up techniques (and styles) that maybe no one should have ever had access to. In this way, I can see how Thierry (with the backing of renowned artists) might suddenly instruct interns to create hundreds of repetitive ideas overnight.

    In that case, the joke is on Banksy, Fairey, Invader, and the rest of the art world. In a total slap in the face style, Thierry might have just sort of..taken…all of their idea, and techniques and combined them into one massive multi million dollar making pop-art phenomenon. The joke is on the artists, the culture, and really the joke is on YOU and ME the viewers. Because we have so little connection to the illusive street art culture, that we might convince our rich friends that MBW is something they should care about, even if he customizes 200 prints by dripping pain on them from a wheelchair.


    B) Banksy found a person who was willing to help with everything, and anything. We saw Theirry’s obsessions take his life over from the first 5 minutes of the film. Perhaps he became so enamored with the idea of Banksy, that when they finally met, he was willing to change his entire life to be a part of Banksy’s vision.

    In this way, MBW might be an outlet for all of the reclusive street artists, someone who would unabashedly put their face out their and host their shows, etc. It’s as Theirry said, street art is all about breaking down the brainwashing. The funny part about MBW is that he does the exact OPPOSITE! He tears street art down into meaningless drivel and the pocketbooks empty just the same!

    If this is the case, again, the joke is on YOU (and ME of course)

    the mess of a post I just wrote is a bit of a joke too eh? I have nothing to do with street art…

  22. I just finished the film and came away with a little more respect for the guys that devote so much to their work. But I also felt that this was a bit of a prank, and a glorious one at that. Banksy and his mates managed to convince an entire “community” that MBW was a legit artist. The clues to this prank are everywhere if you look for them.

    Thierry is so perfect for the role of bumbling tag-along. Since Thierry already had a problem with filming every damned thing that came his way, he already had a crap-ton of footage from his long love affair with a camera. I’d wager that he is cousins with Space Invader, or at least knew him rather well. With his addiction to filming, Thierry could conseivably have been introduced to the street art world.

    Enter Banksy. He sees this grand opportunity to prank the world! Everyone these days is obsessed with this new art, this underground world or spray paint. Banksy hates the establishment, we’ve seen this in his art time and again. Why not make a documentury and convince the art community that a bumbling fool is the next street and pop art genius? It’s perfect in its simplicity. I was almost convinced myself, then I saw some problems.

    The fact that Banksy agreed to this? No, he wouldn’t have gone on film like that. The only time I’d ever seen Banksy on film before was a joke then too! Next, the print of Theirry with the camera, looks very much like either Banksy or Fairey to me. Covering Fairey’s “Obey” print? That’s a slap in the artist’s face! Unless it was part of the joke. The camera was rolling when Theirry fell off the ladder, but the subsequent scenes were all still frames. Why? Because Theirry is no actor, he couldn’t act long enough to simulate pain like that. The alleged film he made is no where to be found. You’d have thought it would have surfaced as the earliest work of one of L.A’s most noted fresh artists.

    No one would agree to a film that shows him so openly as a sell out! Unless he was in on the joke. What a grand joke!!

  23. I don’t think it’s a very successful joke or brilliant prank, like many have suggested, unless the “art world” is duped into treating mister brainwash as some sort of art genius/hot shot. But it seems like if anyone believes that to be the case then the joke would be on him or her. It doesn’t seem like much in this film has to do with the art world at all. Banksy and the others use creative imagery to make social commentary or, more likely, provide amusing expressions. The crowds of people for MBW’s show were all kids, people who might as well be clubbing. The LA weekly isn’t any kind of art journal. I think MBW must look like a joke to anyone halfway knowledgeable or interested in “Art,” and point out the fact that if you just buy your way in without talent or an interesting point of view or message or ability to craft something worthwhile then you won’t last or become credible, you’ll just blow embarrassingly away.

  24. Finally saw “Exit Through the Gift Shop” last night. Man, has it got my emotions all charged up! As an artist I tip my hat to Banksy for his amazing ability to create an artist overnight with a simple endorsement (genius). I like to think of MBW as one of Banksy’s art projects. On the other artistic hand it totally infuriates me that MBW became a huge art success and he DIDN’T even create anything!! How easily did Banksy make puppets of everyone and lead them to the show (not to mention what they paid for the art)! Do you know how hard it is to get the slightest recognition in the art world-I’ve been at it for over 10 years?? I must redirect this hostile energy and find a new marketing approach-at least I now know how easy it is to manipulate the public.

  25. I wonder what would be the legal ramifications of admitting that it is a hoax. They effectively swindled all those people into buying MBW’s art; if they say it was a hoax the value of that art drops to zero and banksy and co have committed fraud. Thoughts?

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