Saturday, August 27, 2011

"F For Fake" - 1973, and "My Kid Could Paint That" - 2007

F for Fake is about 70% fascinating documentary and rumination on art, fakery, and hoaxes, and unfortunately about 30% filler involving a hoax on the audience. Orson Welles was, as always, living his version of the high life in Europe, when he happened upon a French documentarian named Francois Reichenbach who was working on a film about a art forger and genius named, maybe, Elmyr de Hory. de Hory's biography had just been published by an obscure writer named Clifford Irving.

So what? Well, Clifford Irving was just months away from launching the hoax of the decade, all but forgotten now, in claiming that Howard Hughes had hired him to write his biography as well. So you have a world class hoaxer writing a, probably, real biography of  a world class art forger, just before the hoaxer paints his masterpiece by writing a fake biography on the greatest enigma of the 20th century.

Welles bought the already shot footage from Reichenbach, included him in some additional footage, created a whole new segment about Welles' girlfriend Oja Kodar and her relationship with Picasso, dropped in some rumination on his own days as a starving artist, then as a Hollywood legend, on the nature of anonymity in the great works of man, some hilarious swipes at the notion of "expertise" and how expertise promotes fakery, and away we go.

As noted in Peter Bogdonavich's 6 minute introduction on DVD (worth watching), Welles's editing is "brilliant". Much of the film is apparently blown up 16 mm and it looks it. Welles does sequences in his "editing room", on a few cheap looking stages, in a restaurant with his adoring entourage, etc., but when he tears into the editing, you begin to see the tricks of the trade that will lead to the hyperactive jump cut editing of everything from music videos, TV advertising, reality TV, to History Channel schlock.  The clips below just barely begin to tell the story and show Welles' skill. Much of it is very funny, with Welles and Irving only slowly revealing the enormity of de Hory's charm, talent and "crime".

Finally, de Hory gets the last word with "if you hang them in a museum or in your collection of great paintings, and if they hang long enough, they become real", before Welles jumps into one of the loveliest ruminations I've ever heard about art, anonymity, the achievements of man, religion, the whole enchilada, in about 2 1/2 minutes of artfully edited, maybe stock footage, of the cathedral at Chartres.

If the movie ends here, it is a 6 sheeper, but it doesn't. About 18 more minutes are devoted to a related, but less interesting topic.

Which brings us to "My Kid Could Paint That".

Spoiler Alert!! You will learn something shocking about a four year old abstract painter named Marla and her art. You can see how it all happens. Proud parents tell a little white lie about the pedigree of a painting and discover that there is serious money to be made and can't backtrack on the lie. Utterly clueless patrons project all their desires on to this strangely self-possessed little girl to the point of even seeing her as a medium. Just pitiful.

The real fun is trying to figure out who to hate most or who to pity most - the wealthy losers who bought the art, hook line and sinker (my choice), the NYT critic who did the same, the mother who mouths platitudes about wanting her little girl to be normal and happy while allowing 60 Minutes into her life, the father who shows his pride by urging his little girl to "paint the red, paint the red", the artist/dealer who spots the opportunity dropped in his lap and who, late in the movie, brutally oversells one of Marla's painting to a woman who clearly doesn't want it. After the story blows and he is back in his studio doing photorealism, he provides the title of the movie referring to modern art.

They all want so badly to believe in something that anyone who has ever been near a real child knows must be impossible. Not due to lack of genius but due to lack of time and discipline. There is a LOT of art here.

Or maybe it's the director, Amir Bar-Lev, who refuses to ask the obvious question about the nature of art even as he inadvertantly watches Marla's story fall apart on 60 Minutes.

Other than the moody music, this is a straightforward documentary with, unlike "F for Fake", no particular point of view or agenda. Maybe I should admire Bar-Lev's restraint and his willingness to let the audience answer their own questions.  To his credit, when reality check time finally comes, all he has to do is cut out all the chattering adults and compare pictures painted while Marla is being videotaped with the earlier pictures for which she is famous. And boom goes the dynamite.

Marla still has a website devoted to selling her paintings - she would be about 11 by now. I have no opinion on its quality or if its "real". Remember de Hory's truth, "...and if they hang long enough, they become real."

I assume Welles is looking up or down on all this and chuckling richly and rooting for the documentary to ask the right questions - so what if it IS faked? Who is the fake, and who is the expert?

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