Friendship & French Fries

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It’s pretty, but is it Art?

It’s pretty, but is it Art?

For our first assignment for our class, we had to watch Orson Welles’ F for Fake movie. Holy crap was this movie hard to follow at the beginning. Starting from the fact that English is not my first language and there were no subtitles available to help me along, for the first 20 I was trying to figure out who these two men were (I’m sorry to admit I didn’t know who Elmyr de Hory or Clifford Irving were) , or what they did. Once the Art forgery subject, and the fact that Irving wrote a book that’s most of this movie’s title, everything was much clearer.

Once past the initial hurdle, I have to say I loved the movie. It was done in a wonderful way narratively, and I found Elmyr de Hory to be an extremely interesting person.
What struck me the most was the fact that he was a nobody while doing original art, and rose to fame by fakery. In my eyes he’s as much as an artist as any of them! being able to forge all those artists to such perfection that people couldn’t tell, and then sell them to countless museums is incredible.

The book all marketers are liars (later renamed all marketers tell stories) first chapter is all about perceptions. It mentions that a $50 bottle of wine vs a $9 bottle of wine will taste better to people, even if they’re the same wine. Human minds cannot be trusted into whether or nothing something holds value. Because for the painting, the value in it is objectively the painting itself or the story of where it came from and how it came to be.

His reading of Kipling’s excerpt also struck me very much:

When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,   
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;   
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,   
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

How do you know if something is art? who holds that responsibility and as they said if “the value depends on opinion, opinion depends of the expert, a faker like Elmyr makes fools of the experts, so who’s the expert… who’s the faker?”

To also think that he had such an impact on Clifford Irving than the latter would actually go and try to replicate this in his own way, is absolutely fantastic. And the fact that he got away with it is even better. Even back then when the internet wasn’t a thing, and not everyone could be an expert on anything, he managed to dupe people into thinking this book had actual facts in it, to the point that Howard Hughes had to get on the phone himself and debunk him.

Finally, the last part of the movie I find a bit strange. It was supposed to be, and I get the cheekiness intended into fooling us for the last half an hour, but it was basically just shots of his wife in bikini or naked wearing some sheer fabric (wtf) that felt more of a plug to try to put her on the map than anything else. I don’t know if it did or if it didn’t, and I’m not sure if I was just biased because I spent the entire movie googling names and facts in order to keep up, but by then I knew it was his wife and I guess some of the mystery was lost on me. Still, I think the part of the movie that wasn’t that was fantastic.

It’s a shame that the movie wasn’t well reviewed, and hopefully after some time critics went back and gave it a second chance (similar to what happened to Moulin Rouge). I truly loved the movie, and it was great to watch. So I close with a quote from Orson Welles himself on the movie, and applaud him for sticking to his vision even after being condemed by critics:



F For Fake was commercially and critically successful everywhere but here at home. Small-time, amateur distribution and some poor reviews in the smaller cities rendered it virtually invisible in America. This came as a shock to me, because I thought I’d opened up a new movie form—the essay as opposed to the documentary—which would give me lots of scope for future experimentation and would cost little enough, so financing wouldn’t be a problem.

In attempting to explain F For Fake’s state-side failure, it has occurred to me that perhaps the subject matter was at least partially to blame, and that this country is so blissfully enslaved by the notion of the special sanctity of the expert that an overtly anti-expert film was bound to go too much against the national grain.

Orson Welles, 1983



PS: After the film was over, I also watched the 6 minute iintroduction by Peter Bogdanovich. it would’ve helped to see this before the movie lol

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