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S for Subversion


There’s a new film out right now called “Exit Through the Gift Shop” by notorious street art hipster Banksy. The movie is made from footage shot by French ex-pat Thierry Guetta (sorry, no link as any link would be a spoiler), following his cousin, the street artist known as “Space Invader.” That leads him to Obama icon-maker Shepard Fairey and ultimately to Banksy himself who (if you believe everything you’re told) subverts the relationship with Guetta and turns the camera on the filmmaker, who turns out to be the perfect documentary subject.

So who is Banksy? What is street art? What is art art? What is authorship? Is the movie itself real or a hoax, or at least the intricate documentation of an even more elaborate hoax? If it’s a hoax, what does that say about the whole yarn being spun? Somehow the movie tackles all of these ideas at once. For me, two weeks later, I’m still mulling over the concepts and conceits of the film, wondering if I was had or if I was supposed to be had. It made me think. And I had fun while thinking. I suppose that’s a hallmark of great art in any form.

The filmmakers have made the first five minutes of the documentary (or “documentary,” wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more if you will) available, and you really should check it out:

And it turns out that it was not a coincidence that this film caused a bit of a flashback to the last film Orson Welles completed in his lifetime, the 1973 documentary/essay/mess-with-your-head film “F for Fake.” Right down to Banksy constructing the film out of someone else’s footage.

“F for Fake” is a great study in subversion, where Welles disassembles a series of interviews of famous art forger Elmyr de Horay conducted by François Reichenbach on the picturesque Spanish island of Ibiza. Apparently Welles was fascinated by Reichenbach’s interviews with de Horay about art, authenticity, and EXPERTS. And there was another curious character kicking around the Ibiza scene at the time, a writer named Clifford Irving. Irving had written a book about de Horay called Fake!, then went on to create his own master forgery The Autobiography of Howard Hughes. The wrinkle was that Hughes was still alive at the time and disavowed any knowledge of Irving. But, as Irving knew, the billionaire never appeared in public and de-authenticating Irving’s supposed autobiography would be difficult for authorities – and in the meantime he had written a bestseller and his celebrity had exploded, albeit at Hughes’ minor expense.

And Welles, quite the hoaxer himself, couldn’t resist pulling an audience through this hall of mirrors, exposing everything that they take for granted. If you want to see “F for Fake,” it’s on Netflix Instant Play, so if you have an account you can watch it right now. And you should.

According to sources on the web, Banksy was inspired by the Welles film, one more nail in the coffin of the film’s authenticity if you ask me… Although all of the events depicted in the movie DID actually happen, but were they staged or real or what?… See what I mean?

Here’s the original “Banned in the United States!!!!” trailer for “F for Fake.” I apologize that the only version I could find on youtube of the full 9-minute version of the trailer had a few seconds of crap added at the head by the poster. I suppose Welles hadn’t said it well enough himself.

Someone should point out that in the mirror-image of “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “F for Fake,” the never-photographed, true-identity-unknown Banksy’s closest analog is the reclusive Howard Hughes himself. So maybe there’s a new autobiography in this, eh? Mr. Irving, only you can complete the circle.

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2 comments on “S for Subversion

  1. [...] up on Amazon.com to buy a VHS copy Welles’ “F for Fake,” which I blogged about here. I don’t think Wilson ever drank his own kool-aid, using his fun and easy writing style to [...]

  2. I see an underlying theme in many of your posts where you reveal an undeterred passion for questioning what is taken for granted. I relate to this passion intimately. Ever since a course in the falsification of science, which opened my eyes, every single day is just another push into open-minded investigation.

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