Thierry Guetta is Real.

22 04 2010

In the past couple of weeks a lot has been made about street-artist Banksy’s documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. At the center of this filmThierry Guetta, a documentarian (of-a-sort) that has now gone on to fame as a street artist himself, using the name Mr. Brainwash.

For those who haven’t seen it the world of street-art is the backdrop for the film, but the central story revolves around Guetta’s transformation from a somewhat-lovable goof with a camera to a full-fledged, sought-after Artist.  All of this, despite the fact that his art is awful, derivative, meaningless, slop filled with noisy “symbolism” signifying nothing.  Don’t believe me: Exhibit 1Exhibit 2, and Exhibit 3.

Since the film premiered at Sundance a number of critics and viewers have questioned whether or not Thierry Guetta actually exists.  There’s a creeping suspicion that he is somehow himself a prank, that Banksy and Shepard Fairey have constructed him.  Well, this ties in nicely with the episode of Sparrow Songs we’re currently working on which happens to be about The Truth, or rather people who believe they have the truth and feel the need to share it with others.  This, oddly, is exactly how I feel every time I read a piece questioning the veracity of Thierry Guetta’s existence.

You see, a year and a half ago I got a phone call from a friend looking for someone to help out on a potential documentary about Shepard Fairey.  It was in the early stages but from what they said, they had tons and tons of unbelievable footage of Shepard bombing various cities all of shot by a crazy Frenchmen, named Thierry.  I was finishing up my thesis film for UCLA, needed money and this seemed like a good fit.  I was told that the job would entail logging the footage and sorting it.  “Okay, not too bad,” I thought.

For those of you who’ve seen the Banksy film, you know that this wouldn’t be an easy job.  Thierry shot everything. Everything.  The camera never stopped rolling and the tapes were in no discernable order or grouping.  The logs ended up looking something like this:

TAPE 64

  1. Shepard in hardware store. (6 mins).
  2. Shepard walking down street (3 mins).
  3. Camera left rolling on table while people eat dinner (42 mins).

TAPE 65

  1. Camera still left rolling on table while people finish dinner (33 mins).
  2. Camera blocked by dessert tray (6 mins).
  3. Walking down street in New York (12mins).
  4. Thierry talks to woman (5 mins).
  5. Shepard pastes New York water tower (20 seconds).
  6. Thierry getting lost near Holland Tunnel (15 mins)

… and so on.

This is all to say that while I’ve never met Thierry in-person I’ve spent days and days going through his footage.   In a recent LA Weekly piece Banksy described the strain this puts on an editor:

“The film was made by a very small team. It would have been even smaller if the editors didn’t keep having mental breakdowns. They went through over 10,000 hours of Thierry’s tapes and got literally seconds of usable footage out of it.”

When you spend that much time with someone’s footage it feels like you’re spending time with them. You see the world the way they saw it and you hear their questions, frustrations and observations.  As bad as the footage was Thierry’s   personality came through in the tapes — he speaks in non-sequiters, doesn’t respect people’s personal space and is distracted by all things equally.  It was maddening.

In fact, if you want to replicate Thierry’s footage all you need to do is strap a camera to the hood of a muscle car, remove the steering wheel, hit record and drop a brick on the gas pedal.

All of this is to say that in the time I spent with Thierry’s footage I found that he is without a doubt absolutely fundamentally lacking any self-awareness.

Which is the exact reason people seem to think that he’s a character constructed by Banksy and Shepard.  How could anyone possibly stand behind the work he does?  How could someone keep a straight face while standing next to a painting of Larry King in a Warhol Marilyn wig? How could people believe him?

I don’t know, in fact I have no idea, but I know that Thierry Guetta is real because I spent weeks and weeks wishing he weren’t.

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Episode Six – L’Arche

14 04 2010

The secret of L’Arche is relationship: meeting people, not through the filters of certitudes, ideologies, idealism or judgments, but heart to heart; listening to people with their pain, their joy, their hope, their history, listening to their heart beats.

– Jean Vanier, L’Arche founder

Two things I’ve found that tend to make people uncomfortable are (1) being around the disabled and (2) talking about God.  This episode has both and the two are not unrelated.

[If you haven’t watched the episode yet, please do.  You can see it here or here.]

Prior to visiting this house and even during the initial visit I was uncomfortable being around the ‘core members’ – L’Arche’s term for the disabled members of each household.  During our interview, Rita (the young assistant) said that this was natural, “All normal social interaction goes out the window with the core members, there’s no filter, it’s all emotion.” And while I think that that may be a part of why I was uncomfortable I think another piece is that to interact with the core members is to rest one hand firmly on the barrier that separates the normally-abled with the disabled.  You feel the struggle to communicate you feel the urge to be understood and you see all the ways in which the disability prevents that very understanding. You repeat your words and you ask for words to be repeated.

If the interactions were to end there –with frustrations and a sense of nothing more than the barrier between the two of you — then the feeling of discomfort might make more sense.  But humans are adaptable creatures and the desire to relate to one another is innate.  This is one of the beauties of L’Arche. if you spend enough time with someone (anyone) you’ll find a way to communicate. And sure enough another form of communication emerges — through touch and pauses and looks and the energy you carry in your chest.  And through this way of interacting a kind of holistic, (small ‘c’) catholic, whole-body conversation begins.

I found this way of relating to be as calming as it was intense.  Your focus to both your internal world and your external world becomes more acute.  It’s an incredibly calming and peaceful experience.  My hope is that this finished piece reflects that movement from a kind of uncomfortable chaos to a place of sustained quiet that comes about for reasons that aren’t entirely understood.

A few notes about the piece:

  • I first came to know about L’Arche and Jean Vanier through this interview that was done by Krista Tippet for the NPR show Speaking of Faith.
  • For more information on L’Arche or to donate or volunteer please visit the website, www.larcheusa.org
  • I’ve gotten a lot of questions about this piece, so I’ll probably do another post on it.  If there’s anything you’d like to know you can always email me.




“A Whole New Online Video Experience”

12 04 2010

That’s how Raegan Thurlow describes Sparrow Songs in a new piece on Jawbone.tv.

Jawbone is a site that profiles innovations in storytelling and we are flattered to be included.

You can read the full piece here.