Nothing: Week 1 - 'F' for 'Fake'

Orson Welles' F for Fake serves as an interesting introduction to Andrew Lazarow's class Nothing: Creating Illusions here at ITP.  I'm a fan of Orson Welles' films, and indeed his film-making style, but I'm on the fence about whether or not I enjoyed the way this film was presented.  Given that the film is about both misconception and deception, perhaps it's pertinent that the convoluted incoherence of the film itself adds to the viewer's uncertainty about the authenticity of its content.

I knew the story of Elmyr de Hory from a podcast I listened to recently - but for the life of me I haven't been able to find it again.  For me personally, Elmyr's story is the most interesting, and it echoes many of my own feelings about the art world.  I like that they explore the notion of "expert opinion", and expose it to be exactly what it is; the subjective opinion of an individual.  It's sad that, for all his obvious talent, Elmyr was unable to make it as a painter.  His near-perfect forgeries are a testament to the fact that value, especially monetary value, are quite simply an illusion.  What seems crazy is that this perceived value is determined by a small handful of people who, by the testimony of Elmyr and Irving, were more often than not unable to differentiate between the works of the original masters and Elmyr.  

Elmyr's story is a sad one.  The fact that he took his own life when faced with extradition for his "crimes" highlights how broken the system is.  A number of the players make reference to the "art market" and, perhaps, how its existence was the real culprit in the production of Elmyr's forgeries.  I for one admire the man.  Irving, on the other hand, I have little respect for.  That being said, he appears to have played the game well.  He knew well enough that no person could verify the validity of Hughes' authorized biography, which undoubtedly incentivized him to fabricate it.  When he was finally faced with the consequences of his deception, he wrote a tell-all book that earned him notoriety and most likely came with substantial monetary gain.  Once again proving how illusion can be profitable. A real win-win in his book. Well played sir, well played.

I'm a little uncertain what Welles was trying to achieve with the final segment involving Oja Kodar.  My best guess is that he wants to point out the power of film in creating illusions; the art of creating something out of nothing.  He alludes to this by referencing his infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and how it ultimately led him to Hollywood.  For a while I was drawn into Oja's story.  "The devil is in the details", or so they say.  Much like Elmyr's paintings, the minute attention to detail draws the viewer in and helps create the illusion of truth.  I'm interested to hear what female viewers have to say about this section, as I believe Oja's femininity and appearance are intentionally used as a diversionary tactic.  Magic and illusion go hand-in-hand.  Diverting the viewer's attention, and the use of distraction, are key to creating an effective and believable illusion.  I remember reading somewhere that this is the reason magicians always have attractive scantily-clad women as assistants.  It's quite fitting then that Orson Welles presents himself as a magician/illusionist and ends the film by performing such an act.