So this guy Mark Hogencamp of Kingston, NY get ‘queer-bashed,’ leaving him brain-damaged, but comes out of it with the best revenge – better artistic skills and penmanship than me? I’m not saying with schadenfreude that his skills as an artist should be as stalled as mine, but not fair, world.
Hogencamp is as multifaceted as the aesthetic of the fictional town he has created with his two hands, Marwencol, a portmanteau of his name and the two most important women in her life, Mark, Wendy and Colleen. The film, as much as it is dedicated towards his fictional world, also focuses on the man who has created it. He talks normally except for stressing the words ‘angry’ and ‘drink,’ two of his past vices. He’s honest about the porno tape that an old VCR has eaten up or other revelations about his views and practices on sexuality as revealed through the real world and his fictional one. The film lets us watch the man evolve.
Significant portions of the film is devoted to showing storyboard stills of Mark’s stills of the WWII dolls placed in both the town he’s physically constructed, both within 1/6th scale, and seamlessly within natural settings. I’m gonna nitpick and say the the zippers seem larger than scale, but that’s about it. His friends say that he expresses his anger through the dolls, an admirable action because of how he does it. He carefully paints the scars and bullet holes into the body of these dolls instead of attacking them. At first this feels like he’s staining those dolls until we see the effect he successfully conveys, making the violence look like the dolls have inflicted them on each other, as certain plot points of Marwencol’s story go.
Those stills are more colorful than the less glamourous people like Mark and certain townspeople of Kingston, NY from whom some of the characters in Marwencol are based on. No human Barbie dolls and war hunks in Mark’s real world, which make them more special since the film lets us see the beauty that Mark sees in them. These people are interviewed one by one, their reactions to his art as unabashedly honest as the fiction Mark creates. His best friend says that he’s ‘partaken in battles and come out on top,’ Marwencol then becoming a balance between communal fantasy and a symbol for the wars Mark endures to be healed.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” has two subjects. The first one is Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who moved to Los Angeles into his adulthood so the accent is still there. He makes a living by buying warehouses full of crap clothes and turning them into hipster vintage that sell for hundreds of dollars a piece. He also videotapes everything that’s happening in his life. This obsession on documentation roots on missing his mother’s death, presented and effectively pulling on heartstrings.
Thierry’s cousin is graffiti artist Space Invader. For some reason he videopates the latter doing his so-called work, and eventually does this to other graffiti artists like Shepard Fairey, known for the Obama Hope poster.
Then Thierry finds his way to videotaping the second subject of the documentary, Banksy. Banksy’s career turns from art terrorist to the prized artist whose work completes art collectors. I swear I’ve met girls who will turn into the woman collecting ‘the Banksy.’ He wanted to make Thierry’s footage into film because he was probably tired of the stigma of being called a mere ‘tagger,’ nor did he wanna be a pawn in the game played by Sotheby’s and the champagne class.
In a way this film elevates Banksy into a legitimate, unique artist. I mean, he deserves it. The subjects of his work are original and witty. Banksy, without knowing the consequences, advised Thierry into art, having a hand in making the latter into a commodity machine of bad art by creating pedantic work.
This movie typically makes Banksy look good by making someone else look bad in comparison but then a) Banksy doesn’t seem mean but is actually protective of his genre, b) he calls Thierry a friend and sees sympathetic sides of the latter’s one-track but devoted mind, c) his once democratic ‘you can do it’ attitude is radically changed and now he knows only to encourage emerging artists to improve their form and method instead of encouraging them to just do whatever, and d) I have never cringed at artwork the way Thierry’s work has made me.
At the same time I don’t completely buy the argument that despite his lack of method Thierry’s work is is moronic. For argument’s sake, the artwork stands as its own text and a viewer’s interpretation might be more important than the author’s intention. Another version of this argument is that rubber was made by accident, but a good accident indeed. Thierry’s specific representation and repetition of the Marilyn hair pasted on other celebrities, suggests, with or without intention, that all celebrity is repetitive and wants to emulate ‘celebrity’s’ golden age. We see the emulation of Marilyn through Madonna, Chuck Klosterman’s awful assessment of her, notorious photo shoots of both celebrities and models posing as her, biopics both past and in development, etc. He’s just commenting on that.
Most art before late Rembrandt was repetition. Before him, everyone was making copies of what the classics made or what their fathers have handed down to them. They fuck it up all the time, which makes things more interesting, but we can’t call every era as one that radically pushes the border of art since most of what happened in a century is a baby step from what happened before them.
As mentioned in the beginning of this post, Thierry made a living turning shit into gold and is doing the same thing here. The film tells us that Thierry made a million bucks through his ambitious show. As Banksy admits, that must mean Thierry’s art works.
And you can say the same thing about Banksy. He turned what is still an illegal art form into something legitimate.
And now I kinda want Banksy to do a documentary on Thomas Kinkade.