Tuesday May 06, 2003

Rosebud in Babylon

F For Fake (1973) was written and directed by Orson Welles who shows us that you can make a brilliant film for about a “dollar.”

The cast alone is enticing: Orson Welles (Himself), Oja Kodar (The Girl), Joseph Cotten (Himself), François Reichenbach (Himself), Richard Wilson (Guest), Paul Stewart (Himself), Gary Graver (Himself), Peter Bogdanovich (Himself), William Alland (Himself), Laurence Harvey (Cameo), Clifford Irving (Himself), Nina Van Pallandt (Herself), and Elmyr de Hory (Himself).

“Can a forgery be a work of art?” and “Are forgers artists in their own right?”

The story is about an artist (Elmyr de Hory) who forges art and Clifford Irving who scammed a publisher.

The film begins with Welles performing magic tricks. “A magician,” he informs us, “Is just an actor pretending to be a magician.” While this is a film about lies, he promises that for the next hour he will tell the truth. We are told the story of Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving, who both live in Ibiza.

De Hory says he is not an actor. He explains that since he could not make a living by selling his own art, he decided to copy the styles of Picasso and Matisse, selling them as authentic works. Could the faker be a fake? No. He draws a Matisse, then burns it. “The art world is a huge confidence trick.” One museum has 22 post-impressionist fakes and still believes they have the real thing. Irving said that he had de Hory paint a Picasso and a Braque, took them to the Museum of Modern Art, and had them authenticated within two hours.

Elmyr also has a great talent for exposing the art establishment. They claim to be experts in art, to be infallible, and he exposes them by selling them fakes. The only reason Elmyr is not in jail is because of the embarrassment he could cause in the art world. The film goes on and intersperses cuts that include how Clifford Irving duped a publisher regarding the alleged diary of Howard Hughes.

Another “scandalous” art affair pops up toward the end of the 84-minute film that involves an intriguing Picasso “scam” and Oja. She had posed for the great painter some 22 times when she was a younger woman—and, according to her, she had kept all 22 paintings for herself.

In the end, all the scamming, preying, and chicanery can only exist in an environment of misguided values and greed.

Buy or rent this film and see the art of fakery from the maestro for your self.»

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