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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Banksy

James Franco, Mr. Brainwash bring art to Toronto Film Fest

August 16, 2011 |  7:01 am

Photo: Performance artist/actor James Franco. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times James Franco is taking his latest performance art piece to the Toronto Film Festival next month -- this time it's his collaboration with Gus Van Sant and their installation "Memories of Idaho." The effort will include two new films centering on the cultural impact of Van Sant's 1991 film "My Own Private Idaho," which starred River Phoenix.

The first film, "My Own Private River," is billed as a feature-length chronological reassemblage of excised scenes and alternate takes from the original shoot, radically foregrounding Phoenix. (Phoenix died in 1993.) The second film, "Idaho," comes from one of the the three scripts Van Sant used to create the original film. Van Sant's large-format photographs of the actual Portland street hustlers who inspired the original film will also be on display.

Another performance artist, Mr. Brainwash, who was made famous by last year's documentary "Exit through the Gift Shop," will also be strutting his stuff at this year's festival. Festival organizers says Mr. Brainwash, aka Thierry Guetta, will be "engaged in multiple projects," including an exhibition at Gallery One and some collaboration on the festival's fall exhibition on Grace Kelly. The festival also says the L.A.-based artist will be "towering over the red carpet" outside Roy Thomson Hall with his spray cans when evenings require "additional glamour and pomp."

The festival runs Sept. 8-18.


Toronto Film Festival documentary lineup includes Herzog, Spurlock

George Clooney, Brad Pitt highlight Toronto film festival lineup

James Franco back to the esoterica in another turn as a gay poet

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Performance artist/actor James Franco. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

Oscars: 'Toy Story 3' wins long, 'The Lost Thing' wins short on animated front

February 27, 2011 |  6:21 pm


Justin Timberlake confessed -- he's Banksy, the underground street artist whom everyone's been mad to identify. Ha ha. Not.

Animated short went to "The Lost Thing," a very entertaining, very moving short out of Australia (in case the accent during the acceptance speech wasn't a dead give-away). But seriously, if you get a chance, find a way to see this meditation on things that don't quite "fit" in this world, all told after an ordinary guy discovers a strange thing on the beach. Simply wonderful (though I have to say I had a soft spot for "The Gruffalo").  

That "Toy Story 3" won in the full-length feature animation is no surprise. The surprise would have been if this terrific film didn't win. As good as the others were, it is a remarkable feat that the third in the 'Toy Story' series proved to be the best of them all.


Red carpet photos

Live blogging: The Oscars

Oscar scorecard

— Betsy Sharkey

Photo: "Toy Story 3." Credit: Disney / Pixar

Mr. Brainwash: Banksy could come to the Oscars [Video]

February 27, 2011 | 11:49 am

There were few people more colorful on the award season circuit than Mr. Brainwash, a.k.a. Thierry Guetta, the star of Banksy street-art exploration "Exit Through the Gift Shop."

A very hirsute-looking Guetta continued his surrealist tour with a series of comments from the podium at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, when "Exit" won best documentary and he used the opportunity to indulge in some free-associative exuberance.

Among the gems:

"Where I come from and where I am now, even the plane cannot take you."

"It's like a comic strip and it's not real but it is real, I'm real and my movie is real" (a reference to the allegations that some of "Exit," and Guetta himself, is manufactured).

"I had a speech but I left it at the hotel" (despite the fact that, um, doesn't he live in Los Angeles?).

Guetta also spoke on the red carpet before the event (see below), marveling at the fact that some still don't believe his movie is real. (The Times last week cross-referenced his story against public records and found that it mostly checks out.)

"No, there is some people who still doesn't believe it. Even they get the fact left and right, they still like, 'Is it real? You make it up?' So I guess some people keep going, keep don't understand that it's real. We said the fact that it's real. "

As for why there was so much skepticism about th emovie, he had a concise -- or is it utterly head-spinning -- explanation. "It's so real that it looks fake," he said.

The big question as of Sunday morning remained whether Banksy himself would show up to the Oscars. On the red carpet before the event, Guetta engaged in some playfulness. "We'll see. This is like the movie: Can we explain the movie? No. Can we know that the movie is real or not? No. Can we know if he's going to show up? I don't know."

But then he also said that, indeed, he and the reclusive street artist could have a plan. "Maybe, maybe not. I don't know," he said, offering a coy smile.

When we caught up with him inside the Spirits after he won and asked him about the Oscars, the artist gave a characteristically Zen, did-that-just-happen response. "Tomorrow is tomorrow," he said. "Let's worry about today."

--Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kaufman



Photo: Mr. Brainwash at the Independent Spirit Awards. Credit: Gabriel Bouys / AFP/Getty Images

Mr. Brainwash was always a ham, high school teacher says

February 23, 2011 |  1:06 pm

Mr. Brainwash was a ham in high school.

So says Judith Krischer, who says she taught L.A. street artist Thierry Guetta’s English as a second language class at Fairfax High School in the mid-1980s.

Guetta came to California from France as a teen in the early 1980s speaking nearly no English. After dropping out of Fairfax, he went on to throw parties in Hollywood nightclubs, sell vintage fashion and make videos of street artists.

His transformation from filmmaker into the artist known as Mr. Brainwash is the unlikely story chronicled in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” directed by Banksy, the anonymous British vandal.

The considerable hype surrounding the film has focused on its veracity: Did Banksy get Guetta to act in the film and mock the art world’s consumerism? Or is Guetta really the guy depicted in the movie?

Krischer hasn’t seen the film but swears Guetta is the real deal. She recalls him doing Charlie Chaplin-like mime stunts in her ESL class, cracking up his fellow students and delighting Krischer. (Today, Mr. Brainwash uses Chaplin in his art.)

“He’d have me laughing all the time,” Krischer told The Times this week, after recognizing Guetta’s face in a photo in the newspaper.

She recalls him as impulsive and very bright, but also lost. He once cried while confiding to her that his mother had died when he was a child. His father died not long after bringing the family to Los Angeles, leaving Guetta and his siblings to fend for themselves.

 “I was worried about him,” she said. “He didn’t have anyone.”

 After Guetta dropped out, Krischer recalled running into him on Venice Beach, where he was selling things.

 “He’d tell me he was doing these club things ... renting spaces, holding these parties,” she said. “I thought, how can he do this? Who is he? He was unlike anyone I ever met ... lots of street smarts and very charismatic.”

Krischer said she is hoping to reunite with Guetta soon. But she’ll likely have to wait until after Sunday, when Guetta is attending the Oscars.

— Jason Felch

Photo: Thierry Guetta, of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop," seen in front of a mural he painted on La Brea near San Vicente. Photo credit: Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times.

Mr. Brainwash reveals how Banksy helped create him

February 21, 2011 |  8:45 pm

As Banksy art begins popping up mysteriously around Los Angeles in the days leading up to the Academy Awards,  Mr. Brainwash -- a.k.a. French-born Angeleno Thierry Guetta --confirms that he is as much a creation of Banksy as he is an autonomous creature.

"Banksy captured me becoming an artist," Guetta told The Times over cigarettes and fries (of course). "In the end, I became his biggest work of art." (He doesn't allow whether he in fact may be Banksy, as some have suggested.)

Debates about modern art aren't the first thing one expects from the Oscars. But with the best-documentary nomination of "Exit Through the Gift Shop," British phenom Banksy's examination of the street-art scene and the derivative sensation that is Mr. Brainwash -- or is it the other way around? -- that's pretty much what we have.

Among the questions the film has raised: How much of "Gift Shop" is an elaborate joke staged by Mr. Brainwash? Or by Banksy? Or are they, perhaps, even the same person?

In a talk with The Times' Jason Felch -- Guetta's first extended interview since his movie became a hit at last year's Sundance Film Festival -- Guetta describes how Banksy pulled the strings on his now-infamous 2008 show, in which a host of work from Guetta's Mr. Brainwash that paid, er, strong homage to other artists quickly became a sensation.

Continue reading »

With Banksy segment, 'The Simpsons' exits through the gift shop

October 12, 2010 |  2:55 pm

There's no way to know how much this year's Sundance Film Festival hit "Exit Through the Gift Shop" played a part in the emerging mainstream awareness about the enigmatic artist Banksy, but he's certainly gained more notoriety in the past two days. Banksy, who keeps his identity a mystery, directed the opening segment of the episode of Fox's long-running animated series "The Simpsons" that aired Sunday. The opening takes aim at the Asian animation industry, of which the show is a part -- "The Simpsons" outsources animation work to South Korea.

Fox reportedly yanked the video from YouTube but left it up on Hulu. As of about an hour ago, however, the opening is back on YouTube, suggesting that the issue didn't have to do with copyright necessarily, that there may have been some discomfort with the subject matter (though exactly why is hard to fathom -- it already aired on the network).

It's rare to see this kind of subversiveness on the small screen, or in corporate entertainment in general, for that matter. If it's found anywhere, it's usually in indie film -- in works such as "Gift Shop," which stands as the fourth highest-grossing documentary of 2010. But YouTube and the playful "Simpsons" creators have certainly embraced the underground spirit embodied by Banksy in this instance. If you haven't seen the clip yet, check it out below and let us know what you think.

--Steven Zeitchik




Exit Through the Gift Shop makes its entrance downtown

To see Exit Through the Gift Shop, enter through a movie theater

Banksy rocks festival with Gift Shop




Mixed results for summer's specialty releases so far

May 25, 2010 |  2:10 pm


We know that "Shrek Forever After" is off to a slow start, "MacGruber" is an unmitigated bomb, and "Iron Man 2" has surpassed $250 million in domestic theaters. Not surprisingly, the results are just as varied at the art house, where the gap between the haves and have-nots is equally wide.

While a number of highly touted specialized film titles have yet to premiere--Focus Features' "The Kids Are All Right" lands in theaters on July 9, while Music Box's "The Girl Who Played With Fire" opens on July 2--it's not too early to spot the early season's hits and misses.

Perhaps the biggest surprises so far are two documentaries about very different subjects: Focus' "Babies" (with a domestic gross of $5.1 million in three weeks of release) and Producers Distribution Agency's self-released "Exit Through the Gift Shop," which has sold more than $1.6 million in tickets in six weeks of limited release in only 45 locations.

"Babies," which has no narration, follows small children from four different corners of the globe and is playing in 553 locations.

"Gift Shop," a world premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is a documentary made by (and, intermittently, about) the English street artist Banksy. "Gift Shop" has been playing strongly in markets as diverse as Pasadena, Denver, Detroit, Austin and Boston. PDA, a distribution concern created by the film's sales agents after the film failed to land a big Sundance deal, has yet to take "Gift Shop" to smaller markets, where the film's arty appeal could prove a trickier sale.

Among other successful art house releases, Sony Pictures Classics' Oscar-winning foreign film "The Secret in Their Eyes" has grossed $2.7 million in six weeks, Anchor Bay's "City Island" is approaching $4.2 million in 10 weeks, and Music Box's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" stands close to $6.3 million after premiering 10 weeks ago. 

The summer's specialized film underachievers so far include Reliance Big Media's "Kites" (the Bollywood movie grossed a modest $959,000 in its premiere weekend), Magnolia's "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" ($96,000 in three weeks in theaters), Apparition's "The Runaways" ($3.6 million, despite once playing in more than 200 locations with lots of free publicity) and IFC Films' "Looking for Eric" (a mere $20,000 in two weeks). 

--John Horn

Photo of Banksy in "Exit Through the Gift Shop" from Producers Distribution Agency

'Exit through the Gift Shop' makes its entrance downtown

April 13, 2010 |  7:57 pm

Apologies for some slowness in posting over the last 24 hours; we've been engaged in some print work. (Print! It's a good thing too!) More shortly in this space from our reporting on those stories.

In the meantime, we did stop by the premiere of Bansky's "Exit through the Gift Shop" last night. (This is the art-world thriller/meditation from the guerrilla street artist that made a splash at Sundance and is now being distributed by sales agent Cinetic Media. It's also a documentary -- or perhaps just an elaborate postmodern joke.)

The premiere brought out the expected mix of art-world figures, actors and general celebrities-around-town -- Joaquin Phoenix, Ashlee Simpson, Pete Wentz, Shepard Fairey (we'd heard Mr. Brainwash, the unlikely star of the film, was not there, but that's unconfirmed for the moment.) The after-party was one part performance art (think fake policemen dancing on a podium) and one part Los Angeles art world gathering. Mainly it reminded us of the old-world glory of the Los Angeles Theater, which stands as an example of a certain kind of glamorous, pre-war European-style venue architecture (San Francisco's Great American Music Hall also comes to mind).

Banksy, never one to shy away from a smart promotional move, has savvily tagged some spaces around the city (some examples sat parked in front of the theater last night, as pictured here).

There's also a film-marketing question in all this -- namely, can the media-world sensation drive the opening of a movie. The reviews have been strong (David Edelstein of New York Magazine labeled it "acidly funny') -- and the word of mouth will no doubt grow. It's a classic case of buzz versus big marketing money. We'll see how this round goes down.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Shots from the Exit Through the Gift Shop premiere. Credit: A handy BlackBerry camera.

To see 'Exit Through the Gift Shop,' enter through a movie theater -- UPDATED

March 26, 2010 | 12:09 pm

For those of you who were intrigued by "Exit Through the Gift Shop," the Banksy movie that played Sundance and then Berlin, the movie is coming to a theater near you. Well, if you happen to live in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, on April 16, or other cities subsequent to that.

The film will be given a platform release through a new distribution entity called the Producers Distribution Agency, co-founded by Cinetic Media's John Sloss, who has represented rights to the film. (Distribution through that entity is a gift of sorts for Banksy enthusiasts, who likely would have had to wait longer had the movie gone through a more conventional distributor.)

The movie's commercial appeal remains an interesting question; will the film appeal to a die-hard cadre of art-world fans or can it generate word-of-mouth among a general audience?

As you may recall from our Sundance coverage, the movie begins as a chronicle of guerrilla artist Banksy, then turns into a meditation on the value of art and slippery nature of truth as Banksy turns the camera on his chronicler, the colorful French-American Thierry Guetta. Oh, and Banksy may or may not have actually directed the picture. More on distribution plans shortly.

UPDATED -- 3:11 PM: We just caught up with Sloss, who filled us in a bit more about the plans for this film. 

Sloss says there were offers for the movie from theatrical distributors, but the combination of an innovative campaign centered around the cult of Banksy and Banksy's D.I.Y. attitude (which may have not jelled as smoothly with a traditional distributor) made this a more feasible approach. "How specific his ideas are about marketing and how [a distributor] might have insisted on marketing it might have been an issue," he acknowledged. But Sloss also underscored that Banksy was a huge asset -- practically a marketing campaign in his own right. "This is a person who really knows how to create awareness for what he's doing, and at almost no cost."

There was also no need to wait for a traditional distributor to find a far-off release date since, as Sloss deadpanned, Banksy wasn't exactly going to embark on a media tour anyway.

As for Producers Distribution Agency, Sloss said that the entity was conceived to release this film, with no plans yet for future releases. He also said that there would be an outside injection of marketing money for "Exit", and that he wasn't concerned about the conventional wisdom that it was tricky to release a one-off film because of potential theater-owner resistance. "I'm not sure the old chestnut of only being able to collect if you have other films obtains anymore."

--Steven Zeitchik

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Photo: Exit Through the Gift Shop. Credit: Sundance Film Festival


Banksy rocks festival with 'Gift Shop'


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