Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tagging the Oscars: The Elusive Banksy Debate

By Tony Nunes, Dreaming Genius co-editor

With the Oscars coming up on Sunday, the always controversial Best Documentary category is promoting quite a bit of attention thanks to eminent graffiti artist Banksy and his nominated film Exit Through the Gift Shop. Banksy directed the film which follows street artists like himself, Shepard Fairey and the eccentric Thierry Guetta as they spread their art around the world in different ways. Banksy has come under some scrutiny from the Academy for his unorthodox campaigning and surreptitious identity. A further mystery is the actual reality in which the film exists, a question that has sparked some pretty interesting debate in regards to the films inclusion within the documentary category.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is shot in the world of street art, documenting the movement as it has evolved around the world. Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash is a left field French expatriate living in LA. Through a series of fortunate encounters Guetta goes from reluctant videographer to overnight art sensation as he sets out to make a name for himself in the street art community. Guetta’s success is documented in Banksy’s film, and many critics believe the whole thing is a hoax, or elaborate statement by Banksy himself on the unfortunate commercial aesthetic that has transformed art into a DIY pastime.

Banksy’s art is some of the most unique and recognizable out there. A series of murals and graffiti have popped up across Los Angeles this past week that impose the unmistakable Banksy seal (see above). Could this be Banksy’s attempt at an Oscar voting campaign? Is he promoting himself for attention, or simply making his presence known in the town better referred to as La La Land? It makes sense that this overtly antiestablishment artist would go out of his way to literally paint a town whose plastic existence works almost as a secondary character in the film. It’s clear that Banksy takes issue with commercial pandering, so the irony of his recent LA work is rich with satire. One thing is clear, Banksy is in Hollywood this week. Does this mean the elusive artist will make a public appearance come Oscar night?

The question of his appearance has the Academy scrambling in anticipation of something disruptive taking place come Oscar night. Throughout his narration of Exit Through the Gift Shop Banksy appears on screen in a dark hoodie with his face either blacked out or concealed behind a monkey mask. Banksy is a pseudonym for the mysterious artist, whose actual identity remains unknown. Academy executives have let it be known that they will not allow Banksy to wear a mask to the show. Their fear is that masked gatecrashers will attempt to infiltrate the awards show thus creating a scene of chaos and vulnerability. Whether he shows up or not, there is no denying that Exit Through the Gift Shop deserves its nomination. Or is there?

The very notion of Exit Through the Gift Shop being a hoax has left some critics crying foul at its nomination for Best Documentary. By virtue of the documentary method itself, major narrative fabrication is cause for controversy. Debating what’s real and what’s not is a matter of opinion, as Banksy himself holds that everything in the film is real and accurate. The clever thing is however, if the film is a hoax, then by association, its probable message also works to satirize the very genre for which it is nominated. The commercial art world is seen in the film as a sort of club for ne'er-do-well wannabe artists like Guetta, who capitalize off of an aesthetic quality created and perfected by the true artists working on the streets. If Gift Shop is a hoax, Banksy is in a way subjecting the documentary film format to this same notion. By creating an art film made to look and feel like a documentary, and gaining the attention and praise that it has, Banksy is in affect satirizing the genre as Guetta satirized his art.

Hoax or not, in the end, Oscar controversy makes for a good show. Whether its Sacheen Littlefeather accepting Marlon Brando’s award in protest of the film industries treatment of Native Americans, or polarizing filmmaker Michael Moore speaking candidly on the US involvement in Iraq, unscripted moments are the most memorable. Is Exit Through the Gift Shop a hoax? Will Banksy show up in costume? Will he even show up at all? None of this truly matters. What is important is the fact that Banksy created a film worthy of a win, and guaranteed to keep us talking.

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