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Exit Through The Oscars - Again!

Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.

I was thinking about last year's Oscars and how my main interest in them was whether British street/guerrilla artist Banksy might make a surprise appearance (given that he doesn't "do" appearances) at the ceremony to collect the award I was certain he would win for his documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop (as so often with my Oscar predictions, I was wrong about the award - and the likelihood of his presence).

This year, I just wish there were some kind of potential controversy that could enliven the proceedings. There are some good films among the crop of Oscar nominees - and one great film in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, but there is nothing that I can get really excited about, other than the possibility of it winning, which somehow doesn't seem as sure a thing as it should.

Maybe it's a reflection of the state of the industry, or my tastes - or both - but I long for the days when more movies would challenge my preconceptions of what films can do, or how people are, or how life might be viewed...or all three and more.

I think back to films like Apocalypse Now and Raging Bull - or, more recently, There Will Be Blood - and wonder where Hollywood is going. Even art house movies these days tend not to get my adrenalin racing - or to put me in that incredible, special sense of "floating through time" achieved by such unique works as Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love or Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love or Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation - and Malick's astonishing, transcendent The Tree of Life.

So, in lieu of excitement about this year's pick of other Oscar contenders, here is my piece about Banksy and the Oscars again from last year:

Exit Through The Oscars - Banksy Goes To Hollywood

(Originally posted Sunday, February 27, 2011)

Banksy's Charlie Brown/Charlie Burn on a building in LA - Photograph:
Without doubt, the one thing that most makes me want to watch the Oscars this year is British artist Banksy, whose wonderfully anarchic and entertaining documentary (he is either its subject, its co-creator, or both - or more) Exit Through The Gift Shop is hopefully a shoe-in for Best Documentary.

Aside from my feelings about this year's crop of movies in general - more on that in a moment - when did the Oscars last have any sense of the unexpected, of something really interesting and unusual possibly happening?

Banksy - a mysterious, identity-concealed street artist (of sorts - his works now sell for six figures and he storyboarded and directed a stunning opening sequence for The Simpsons), whose work is akin in spirit to the upheaval caused by the "hacktivist" group Anonymous - may or may not appear at the Academy Awards ceremony in some form or another. (I'm sure he will but whether we know it is a different matter.)

Banksy's typically amusing and all-inclusive comment on the Oscars is: "I don't agree with the concept of award ceremonies, but I'm prepared to make an exception for the ones I'm nominated for. The last time there was a naked man covered in gold paint in my house, it was me."

Banksy's publicist confirms that this image is from Exit's subject, Mr Brainwash

The Academy Award organizers themselves, sensing perhaps a different kind of excitement about this year's Oscars, seem fairly affably divided about Banksy's possible attendance.

The British newspaper The Guardian reported that, "The Oscars do not 'do' enigma" - and that Banksy's request to appear in disguise had been turned down.

But Bruce Davis, the Academy's executive director, seemed to have his tongue in cheek at least a little when he said:

"The fun but disquieting scenario is that if the film wins and five guys in monkey masks come to the stage all saying, 'I'm Banksy,' who the hell do we give it to?"

Whether - and/or *how* - Banksy appears tonight feels all the more relevant, given the extraordinary events of the past few weeks in the Middle East.

It may seem a stretch to link the possible attendance at the Oscars of a customarily hooded anonymous man (face concealed in shadows) whose voice is usually disguised by digital distortion, but Banksy's anarchic energy and approach to life and art mirror the incredible and primarily peaceful (in terms of the protesters' actions) revolutions that have occurred - or are still underway - in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere (including protests in China that are being forcefully repressed by the government).

One of the most gripping, nerve-clenching sequences of Exit Through The Gift Shop comes when Banksy "installs" a Guantanamo Bay detainee at Disneyland and is videotaped in the process by Exit's actual "subject," French-American street artist/entrepreneur, Thierry Guetta aka Mr Brainwash.

Guetta/Mr Brainwash is "taken" ("arrested" would be another word) by Disneyland security officers and held for hours in an underground interrogation room (beneath the amusement park), where he is allegedly (and given Walt Disney's personal 600-page pro-FBI file, it seems highly likely) questioned intimidatingly by individuals, including one claiming to be from the FBI.

Guetta bravely sticks to his story that he has no knowledge of the Guantanamo doll Banksy has placed in a section of the Adventureland/Jungle Cruise ride - and even manages to conceal his vital video footage of the event in his shoe while quickly deleting anything from his video camera before the Disney goons can see it!

Guetta makes it out of Disneyland alive - and his video record of both Banksy's Disneyland mannequin statement and the extraordinary fear it strikes in the heart of corporate "Family Fun" survive to underline the peaceful yet subversive nature of Banksy's art.

Banksy-modified billboard, Los Angeles, February 2011 - Photograph:

Banksy has been in Los Angeles for the past few weeks, creating his art - and having some of it torn down (read this excellent LA Weekly piece and watch the video at the bottom of this post) - and he, perhaps along with Stephen Colbert's claim that he is Banksy, has created more of an air of anticipation for this year's Oscars than for a good many years past.

One reason is that, despite some excellent Oscar contenders, such as Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan (which I think will win Best Picture), David Fincher's very-relevant-in-its-own-way Facebook movie The Social Network and the Coen Brothers' very moving but ultimately for me unsatisfying True Grit, there is nothing this year to match the subversive drama and beauty of Paul Thomas Anderson's multiple (eight) Oscar-nominated 2007 oil prospecting movie, There Will Be Blood. (It won Best Actor Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis and Best Cinematography for Robert Elswit.)

Certainly there is no line - or scene - to match Blood's perfectly judged and perfectly insane condemnation of greed: "I drink your milkshake!"

A line Banksy would approve of, I suspect.

So, milkshakes aside, let's hope Banksy stirs things up a little at the Oscars tonight. Tagging the red carpet? No, way too obvious and clumsy. Using one of those fire-extinguishing planes to scoop up and drop a few thousands gallons of paint on the Kodak Theatre? Probably a little too elaborate and tricky to arrange - not to mention dangerous, illegal and environmentally unsound.

Let's leave it to Banksy to arrange something surprising...or perhaps the surprise will be no surprise at all. Although somehow that wouldn't be very satisfying.

I hope Exit Through The Gift Shop wins!

Enjoy the Oscars.

Banksy's opening sequence for The Simpsons:

Banksy Billboard Takeover on Sunset Boulevard:


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