Thursday, September 27, 2012

"This is a Review About Trickery and Fraud...About Lies."

...well...the above listed as well as an announcement at the end, but all things in due time.

With a paraphrased quote like that as a lead-in, let me start by saying that even I admit to having been a little surprised by this film.  Prior to this film, I, like many people, knew Orson Welles from one of three facets:
-As a well known and highly respected actor/director renowned for being a very intense individual
-The unfortunate later years which lead him to rather unusual side projects to fund his main interests - perhaps best encapsulated by one of the last roles of his life voicing Unicron in the Transformers movie
-and as an entertainingly cantankerous old man who, despite doing projects he may not have been proud of, still found enough pride in himself to verbally tear apart a badly written commercial spot he'd been asked to read.

So when I first learned about his semi-documentary F for Fake (or, as it's called within the movie, About Fakes) I wasn't entirely sure where in the spectrum I would find this to be.  My initial impulse being the intense man of his prime and in his element.  To my surprise, I discovered a Welles I never expected. I never thought I'd see the day I'd call Orson Welles playful...and yet, this movie certainly showed it, and not just in his behavior.  The entire way the movie is shot gives a rather different sort of look at Welles - it certainly shows itself as a product of the man's passions, don't get me wrong, but given the subject matter, he also approaches it with an almost fun air.

I'm actually rather glad they market under the other title.  This one just doesn't roll off the tongue as well.
...look, these captions can't be zingers all the time.  Just saying.

Equally surprising is the fact that, in his own way, Welles actually seems to side with the idea of fakers. In fact, in the beginning of the film he even identifies himself as a charlatan with a smile on his face.  Further, he has a friendly rapport with particular fakers the film focuses on, and  that keeps the film from feeling like a formal affair.  Instead, it feels almost more like a casual sit-down conversation at times.  This loose feeling is also embodied in his focuses - in looking at the notion of the hoax, Welles focuses much of the film on two prominent hoaxsters: Elmyr de Hory, an art forger who, at the time of the movie, has worked for over 20 years and has consistently delivered astonishingly accurate fakes; and Clifford Irving, the infamous author known for his faked memoirs of reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes.

Artist's Rendering.
...I have to admit, I think I'm just gonna picture this whenever I think of Hughes in the future.  If only cause this is a hard to top take on the idea.

In particular, Welles focuses much of the film on Elmyr, and for good reason - he is a genuinely  fascinating subject.   He's a very good-humored and surprisingly talented man whose technique of forgery is  almost more of a hobby to him than simply a means of income - we see him actually burn many of his works that he could have easily profited from.  If anything, any profit he makes from the paintings is more secondary to his amusement at the idea that his work is convincing enough for people to offer as much money as they do for them.

This is made even better by the fact he's smiling as he does it.  I can only imagine some of the shenanigans he pulled on people that ended like this.

Additionally, it's through the idea of Elmyr that Welles explores some other interesting notions regarding art and the art world.  In particular, though only briefly touched upon, the film has a rather criticial approach towards the entire art dealer culture and the idea that art's value is artificially instilled by experts.  On that note, actually the lighter approach to much of the film makes these meditations stand out more.  In particular, one sequence near the end of the film when Welles reflects on an old cathedral and the idea that art is, in many ways, a sort of echo of man that will eventually fade in time.  It takes a surprisingly darker tone from much of the film, but that allows it to stick in the memory a bit more.

"...and for my next trick, a reminder of your own inescapable mortality."

Alongside exploring Elmyr's story, and somewhat tied into it, Welles also explores the backstory of Irving's infamous scandal.  His tale fares less fortuntely compared to Elmyr.  In fact, exposure seems to have even helped Elmyr.  Many of his friends speak well of his capabilities.  Comparatively, we don't see quite as much said in favor of Irving and his staged autobiography.  Welles certainly goes into many of the details of the case, raising questions of if Hughes had any part to play in things.  Even when the famed recluse supposedly came forward (by phone) Welles raises the question of if it's truly him, or another facet of the hoax.  Overall, while it still provides a good overview of the hoax, it does feel somewhat less personal than the focus on Elmyr, with less direct study of Irving and more of the entire mystery around him.  Nevertheless, Welles's exploration of the mythos of Howard Hughes and Irving's part in it also makes an interesting aside in the film, in particular outlining why it happened and why people were so fascinated by it in the first place.

Sorry Cliff, but I think the earlier image of the man beats yours.  Points for trying though.

There is an additional story near the end of the film Welles goes into - a rather curious tale of one Oja Kodar and her own adventures in the world of art forgery. Rather than describe, I can honestly say it is a sequence that really has to be watched to be fully enjoyed.  In particular, the way Welles and Kodar recount the tale is a nice bit of shooting and really helps draw you into the tale.  It's an interesting note to end the film on.  Though it's only tangentially tied to the two main stories, it still provides a very nice little riff on the theme, and watching it truly does it justice.

Seriously, with this as a lead-in, I just don't have it in me to spoil the surprise for you guys.

If I had to say one other thing for this film overall, it's that, even along with his playfulness as a host (Welles even starts the movie demonstrating sleight of hand magic to a child, as shown above,) Welles's easygoing nature seems to show through in the direction.  The entire movie moves with a sort of free-form, loose style rather than a focused approach, and it really keeps the movie flowing nicely.

 To give credit where it's due - Elmyr de Hory, with his rendering of another famous art forger (guess who? ... or just watch the movie and learn that way, that's fine too.)
and Clifford Irving - because sometimes one really big spectacular bluff is enough to put you up there with the guy who's been on a decades-long strong streak.
...actually, I really do have to hand it to Irving, the film really does help give you a respect for the fact he got away with as much as he did.

Is this one of Welles's most acclaimed masterpieces?  Not sure I'd say that for it.  It is, however, certainly a fascinating project for him.  He takes a rather vague topic and manages to still explore it in a well thought out fashion, and even manages make some interesting food for thought of its own.  It's one of those films that really helps remind one of some of the interesting things a documentary can be capable of when approached the right way.

"Now then...which one of you bastards did I just hear start a sentence with 'In July'?"
...sorry.  It's Orson Welles, the reference is almost inevitable.
Having said that, as stated above, it's announcement time:

As of this time next week, we'll officially be into October.  Good weather, seasonal decorations, and right now the only tradition that has safely managed to stick here at the Third Row - that's right.  We're repeating last year's Beer and Lederhosen-Free Octoberfest.  For those who missed this and are thinking 'Nuts to checking the archives' the set-up is simple - entries will still be here every Thursday (roughly.  There may be a week mid-month when this is delayed for reasons that will be explained when the time comes.)  Instead of the standard full review, this month is 31 films, a horror film a day, with a weekly writeup on each of the entries.

I don't mind saying that I'm actually looking forward to this one.  This was a fun event to do last year and it's a Hell of a list lined up for this time around.

So keep an eye out, and will see you all next week when this craziness kicks off with our first four features!

Till next time...feel free to insert a maniacal laugh of your choice here.

No comments:

Post a Comment