F For Fake takes us on a journey into fakery to explore that fakes are not necessarily fakes, but whether or not they are seen as “good fakes” in the opinions of the experts.
“As long as there are fakers, I guess there’ll have to be experts. But if there weren’t any experts, would there be any fakers?” – Oja Kodar
Is it because mimicry is the highest form of flattery? Where there is reality, there is a way to alter that reality…for money? At least when you have forgers and experts on the same plane, you have both sides of the spectrum, both sides to offer truth and confirmation of fact versus fake. Or do you?
Any movie is almost certainly some kind of lie.
This whole movie, F For Fake is very meta. We were watching the very point of what was trying to be made by the film. The whole time I was wondering if this documentary itself was fake – in terms of the people and events and story being fiction, not non-fiction, and that the whole documentary was a real movie but a fake non-fiction. (Please note I have no prior knowledge of Elmyr de Hory or Clifford Irving.) However in this case, Welles does promise facts and truth:
During the next hour, everything you’ll hear from us is really true…
Although in the end we did discover that the final 17 minutes of the film was in fact a pile of lies, the first hour seemed just as realistically unreal.
A few weeks back I stumbled about 15 minutes into a documentary on Animal Planet called “Mermaids: The Body Found.” By the title, I was certain that this must be some sort of fictional movie with a plot, not a documentart. But to my surprise, I followed the documentary down the rabbit hole of trickery. The interviews, the passion, the hard evidence, the story, the history, the timelines, the visuals – were all told just like your average documentary. I thought perhaps I missed some news story about this. There is obviously something real about the whole thing if it is in this media — until 2/3 of the way through the story was not adding up. The experts seemed too young. There was an obvious CGI-ed mermaid scene that seemed too cinematic for a documentary. And then I googled the documentary and found out that it was a hoax. A hoax! What I am saying is, mermaids have not been discovered (and crabs do not sing reggae). This movie was FAKE! However, F For Fake has me reconsidering this idea of fake in this case.
The important distinction to make when talking about the genuine quality of a panting [movie] is not so much whether it’s a real painting or a fake, but whether it’s a good fake or a bad fake.
The mermaid documentary was a very real movie. But the information, although not based real information, was very real within the story of the film. I was tricked into thinking this was fact, when really it was a non-fiction piece as real as Finding Nemo or Moonstruck. So it was very good fake non-fiction. I have to hand it to Animal Planet. (Also I really wanted to believe that something fun had been discovered and Animal Planet was doing its best to push out the truth of the conspiracy.)
Back to Welles…
With a film that is based on trickery, hum bug and fraud, it is hard to watch the film and not suspect some sort of illusion of story, visual or fact happening. Or is it the illusion itself the idea that we are being tricked into thinking that we are being tricked. What is our brain, as the audience, supposed to believe?
You really must believe that what comes next, is solid fact.
Okay FINE, Orson. I will suspend disbelief for now.
In the case of Elmyr (why is his name so hard to remember how to spell…), his “forged” artwork is the signifier. It is the same as Bogg’s “fake” money. It has come to represent an original.
“‘Art’, he[Picasso] said, ‘was a lie. A lie that makes us realize the truth.'”
In this particular case, through the artful money of Boggs, we see truth – truth of what a signifier is, what money represents, and what the “Boggs Notes” represent that they represent. (Nested representation?)
I do have to argue that Elmyr is more talented than the original artists themselves. It is one thing to be able to draw freely in your own style, but to recreate the style, essence, energy and originality of another, is a talent all its own. So I beg to ask, if the paining is in the style of Picasso, is it not a Picasso? Walt Disney no longer draws Mickey Mouse, but are the (Disney copy-written) cartoons of late not considered Disney? In the case Francois Reichenbach, he didn’t ask if the artworks from Elmyr were originals of the artists in question or if they were drawn by Elmyr. He didn’t want to know. So what is the difference then? All are real paintings in the style of a certain artists. So therefore, they are original, real paintings.
But really, the takeaway for me from this was…if I closed my eyes, I heard Dr. Fraser Crane giving me advice on whatever psychological neurosis I called in about – let’s say it was for the fear of being duped, otherwise known as wool-over-my-eyesophobia (or by its lesser known name, fool-me-once-ophobia). With my eyes closed and ears open, I was transported to Seattle in the 90s. So the question is, did I turn Orson Welles into a “fake” Dr. Fraser Crane (who in reality is just a character by Kelsey Grammer), or was I listening to the real Dr. Crane, who in the reality of “Fraser”, is a true psychotherapist?
I do wonder – where are all of Elmyr’s alleged paintings now?