So, a special addition to the QONT influence map, the one influence behind all others, yet the one whose name could not be spoken. Why ruin the illusion after all?
F FOR FAKE (though titled ON FAKES within the film itself) is not strictly a narrative fiction film nor is it a documentary. It's a long filmic essay on fakery, art, markets, biography. Mortality. It's one of my favorite films, one I didn't see until I'd actually started work on QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS. I wanted to see what I could pick up about forgeries and the art world to work into the book itself.
If you didn't know already, QUEEN centers around the story of a forger of books who moves from copying to making originals, just to see if she could, and if she could fool anyone into believing that they were true works. The reality is that the forgery is real and that there are forces who will do anything to hold the book. Which is a forgery. Scribblings on a page. Not real.
Not the most original macguffin, perhaps, but this is what happens when you let English majors off the leash. Of course, the book is much more than that.
Now, if you've seen F FOR FAKE, you already know that in terms of detail on forgery, it's very thin. Because it's not a documentary, but a meditation. Though it is fiction, and spins some whoppers, particularly at the end. Yet, the film is filled with facts, as it clearly states right there at the beginning. You could drown in the facts, and might even have a hard time keeping up with them, offered in rapid-fire but gleefully in conflict with one another.
This is what happens when you set up a conversation with forgers, liars and raconteurs, of which Welles himself is the grand master. Not only that, but magic, as the film goes out of its way early on to establish Welles as a stage magician. Hmm. Magic. Where have we heard that talked about? I wonder.
And who else does Welles line up in this hall of mirrors? Elmyr, who may or may not be a Hungarian art forger who can scratch out Picassos and Modiglianis before lunch. Clifford Irving, who may or may not be a world-class con-man who made more money by telling everyone how he ran his cons. Welles himself, who lied his way onto the stage and who made a big splash by telling a lie so big that people had to believe it was true, causing a national panic. Starting at the top and working his way down ever since, indeed.
But then there's more. We have appearances by Grandpa Picasso, who may or may not have been fooled by the oldest trick in the book, if only the story were true. And Oja Kodar, who may or may not be nothing more than an ingénue or might be the granddaughter of the greatest art forger of the twentieth century (greater even than Elmyr). Howard Hughes, who only existed then as a disembodied voice shuffling around the penthouse of the Desert In wearing Kleenex boxes for shoes and shaggy as a yeti. Was he even real then? Of course, the other artists copied, bitten: Matisse, Modigliani, Degas, Picasso of course. Even the last vestiges of La Dolce Vita, the sweetest living when Europe was the cultural capital of the world, even those fading ghosts are forgers and forgeries. Los Angeles and Vegas, capitals of fakery, just waiting in the wings to take over. Men from Mars lurk at the edges, peering over the parapets of the Chartres Cathedral.
Lies everywhere. What then, can you believe?
Well, which are the good lies? "The important question is not whether a painting is real or not, but whether it is a good or bad fake." This is a paraphrase and I'm far too lazy to go back and check for the exact wording. This is not academia. I'm not being paid, not even in clicks. The Howling Pit is keeping those for itself. So the paraphrase will have to do.
Of course, when they're talking about art in F FOR FAKE, I'm mapping it onto fiction. Fiction isn't real, though people will happily act as if it is. They'll wage war for it. They'll go into battle for not only their interpretations, but the meta-interpretations and forced realities that clearly must be true. Sigh. I suppose this is inevitable when we live in a world where authenticity is manufactured, where the only genuine notion of an artwork is not the artwork itself, but the reaction or emotion that it provokes. One hand clapping or a tree falling in a forest, take your pick.
Yet here we are. On some level, sure, the fakes that Elmyr sketches out for the camera only to then ceremoniously burn as if to absolve himself of the crime, those fakes are not real. Yet, you put them in front of an audience and you'd get oohs and aahs, the genuine feeling that you were in the presence of Real Art. Oh, and people would probably stand to make a lot of money. Yeah, taking the piss out of the art market as a construct is one of the more invaluable services that F FOR FAKE renders for its viewers. Granted, this is a world that most of us will only experience from the outside and don't have to live with the vicissitudes of. For those others, it's probably not so funny. But setting torch to not only the notion of Dictated Taste, but Expertise and Authenticity itself, always a good use of an hour and a half.
The film itself is a perfect example of baffling with bullshit, but it does dazzle with brilliance at times. It also takes the piss out of itself and Welles own mythology (just watch him mouth the world "pretentious" during one of the rapid-fire montages.) It stays real as it lies, because Welles himself knows that there are certain hard facts that you can't just sneak your way past, immortality or not. He'd be cursing out hapless sound men for giving him terrible copy to read in ten years, shopping with Bodganovich and staying in a guest room after diminished fortunes for the preceding decades. Does any of that matter? Does any of that take away from what is said about authorship itself being tossed into the air and the only works that really stand now are those unsigned such as Chartres (which you can argue about the nature of its making or his hagiography, but it is a towering achievement.)
So I can't say that the film gave me much of use for QUEEN, other than the affirmation of a bunch of liars and fakers telling me that "just because it's forged doesn't mean its fake." Granted, nobody in the film says that. I came up with it all on my lonesome. The art only exists in the viewer's head and heart. The piece itself is only instructions for assembly. What happens on the other end makes it real, yeah?
I'll have some other thoughts later today, given the auspiciousness of the date. See, I'm an actual published writer as of this day. A novel, even. The apex. The pinnacle. The top.