Documentary filmmakers often seek to present reality in the stories they tell. This process is sometimes known as capturing the ‘real’. The viewer generally expects the presentation of a documentary to be accurate but remain largely unaware of the construction or manipulation that has occurred during production. On the other hand, the Filmmaker uses codes and conventions together with style to capture reality. In this essay, I will analyse how conventions and styles of documentary in Exit Through the Gift Shop are used to capture the ‘real’ including Cinema Vérité, archive footage, narration and interviews.
In Exit Through the Gift Shop, the style of Cinema Vérité is used in the documentary to capture a sense of reality. Cinema Vérité is a term which refers to a style of filmmaking developed by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin. According to Rouch the term means the truth that arises from the interaction between the filmmaker and the subject (Nichols 2010, 119). In the first part of the film Thierry Guetta’s rough handheld footage is shown to convey that he is recording and interacting with the street artists. This style is observational but is also ‘run and gun’, a style used in video journalism. However, in the second part Thierry becomes the subject, Mister Brainwash. The camera plays more of a ‘fly on the wall’ approach with most of the direct interaction occurring with the film’s other participants. Whilst both parts are different, they still make use of Cinema Vérité to capture a sense of reality. Self-reflexivity also adds to this idea.
At times the first section is self-reflexive as we are reminded of Thierry’s presence as the ‘filmmaker’. For instance, there are moments when street artist, Shepard Fairey directs the camera positioning and is having a conversation with Thierry on camera. While watching this footage it carries the notion that ‘the camera doesn’t lie’ because the camera’s gaze is similar to the human eye (Chapman 2009, 49). The video looks amateurish but that’s precisely what makes it believable for the viewer because it seems unaltered. Cinema Vérité or Direct Cinema may appear unaltered but Parkinson (2012, 165) notes “the very process of framing and editing images diminishes their objectivity”. Essentially, this style captures reality because it brings the viewer closer to the action (Buck unknown, 12). Thierry’s recordings can also be considered archive footage. Just like the style, archive footage also captures a sense of reality in a documentary.
The use of archive footage in this film captures the reality in the life of Thierry Guetta. The particular archive footage I’m referring to is the videos of him and his family. It paints a picture of Thierry as a regular family man but also as a kind of obsessive compulsive video recorder. He is shown recording all of his movements no matter how trivial as well as capturing moments of his children’s lives. According to Nichols (2010, 131), “Convincingness regarding past events, for example, can often be enhanced by the use of re-enactments or by the use of archival, historical footage.” By showing this footage Banksy is trying to accentuate the fact Thierry is obsessed with filming. Particularly, the shots of him filming himself in mirrors and in bathrooms capture this reality. Another way that Banksy captures the reality in the life of Thierry Guetta is through narration.
Banksy uses narration or voice-over to capture the ‘real’. The documentary is narrated by Rhys Ifans who acts as a “voice of God” which is typically heard in history and nature documentaries. According Weinberger (2002, 9), “Used judiciously, voice-over can provide, at least what appears to be, illuminating, objective context for the images that accompany it”. The audience are bound to believe the narrator as they have no reason to think otherwise. He seems to be a third-party to the action but in actual fact he is likely to be reflecting Banksy’s thoughts and visions as the director. The voice-over is not only a storyteller; it gives the viewer an insight into the character of Thierry Guetta. The narration in conjunction with archive footage and an interview provides the audience with an explanation to his aforementioned obsession with filming. It reveals that Thierry became obsessed with capturing moments on camera because he missed out on seeing his mother before she died. This conveys the reality behind his behaviour and personality. Similarly, interviews are another method of capturing the real of a subject or character.
Banksy uses the interviews as a narrative tool and to reveal information about Thierry’s character. Shepard Fairey and Banksy provide the street art perspective while Thierry mainly provides personal context and his version of events. Fairey and Banksy also make criticisms of Thierry and comment on his character. Banksy mentions that he thought Thierry wasn’t a filmmaker but someone with mental problems who had a camera. Chapman (2009, 104) argues that “the use of a string of interviews to construct a narrative provides a middle way between the two poles of either letting the event speak for itself (observation) or providing a single authoritative voice (narration)”. By using interviews mixed in with voice-over and observation footage, the viewer is more inclined to believe the message being conveyed. When we hear Thierry speak in the interviews combined with the other evidence we begin to think he is very eccentric and naive. For example, Thierry says “That’s why I call myself Mr Brainwash. It’s because everything that I do … somewhere … it brainwash your face.” Furthermore, this shows how Interviews are used to capture the real (a.k.a. Mister Brainwash).
In this essay, I have analysed how conventions and styles of documentary are used in Exit Through the Gift Shop to capture the ‘real’ including Cinema Vérité, archive footage, narration and interviews. The viewer generally assumes a documentary to be true but is unaware of the construction that has occurred during the production process. Video evidence has the tendency to carry the notion that ‘the camera doesn’t lie’. Such is the power of documentary; the viewer might share the director’s point of view by the end of the film.
Buck, Chris (date unknown) “Do Look Back: The Story of Cinema Verite” Reprinted in MCC333 Documentary Reader, p12. Perth, Western Australia: Murdoch University.
Chapman, Jane (2009) “Objectivity/Subjectivity Pursuing Truth?” and “Authorial Voice” in Issues in Contemporary Documentary, Cambridge, Polity Press, pp 49,104.
Nichols, Bill (2010) “Documentary Film” and “Style” in Engaging Cinema, New York, W.W Norton and Company, pp 119-131
Parkinson, David (2012) “Cinema Verite” in 100 Ideas That Changed Film, London, UK: Laurence King Publishing, p165.
Weinberger, Michael (2002) “Defining Documentary Film: The Question of Roger and Me” Reprinted in MCC333 Documentary Reader, p9. Perth, Western Australia: Murdoch University.