Friday, March 05, 2010

F for Fake. F for Failure.

“For it can be very hard to live with the belief that nothing matters in life, that nothing is solid or real, that everything is a show in the egotist’s head. It loses friends, trust, children, home, money, security and maybe reason. So it is comforting indeed, late in life, to come upon a proof that the emptiness and the trickery are valid and sufficient. A very sweet, shallow serenity is left.” (David Thomson, ROSEBUD The Story of Orson Welles, Abacus, 2005, p. 409)

Welles and I have at least two things in common, as far as I can fathom. Both of us never reached our full potential and were failures in worldly terms. (Pauline Kael wrote: "When Welles was only thirty-six, the normally gracious Walter Kerr referred to him as 'an international joke, and possibly the youngest living has-been.’” There is also the mutually shared belief so eloquently spelt out by Thomson in the quote above. This probably explains the strange affinity I have always felt to Welles without really having been a fan. I saw Citizen Ken and Carol Reed’s The Third Man when I was in London in 1971 and duly admired both the films, especially Welles’s contribution. Earlier, I had avidly sought, read and enjoyed the study of the CBS’s The War of the Worlds radio broadcast (Halloween 1938) by Hadley Cantril, Professor of Psychology, Princeton University (Invasion from Mars). In the meanwhile, I had started to think of myself as a film buff My cinema aficionado’s reading list included Pauline Kael’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was inevitable that I soon came across her 2-part New Yorker article (1971), Raising Kane, which accused Welles of being a credit stealer. This rekindled the ancient controversy about Welles having tried to deny credit of Citizen Kane’s authorship to Herman J Mankiewicz as well as The War of the World radio show’s authorship to Howard Koch. Both accusations had an element of truth in it. F for Fake (1973; 85 minutes), co-authored by Welles and Oja Kodar, is his retort to Kael. Here’s one terse summary of the film: “F for Fake opens with a couple of magic tricks, segues as though by sleight-of-hand into the story of master art-forger Elmyr de Hory and his relationship with biographer Clifford Irving (a sequence ‘remixed’ by Welles with extant footage from François Reichenbach’s documentary work-in-progress, Elmyr), then hones in on Irving when word gets out that his purported biography of recluse-mogul Howard Hughes is a first-class hoax in its own right. Here the film erupts in all directions, as Welles contrasts the sprawl of ‘70s Hollywood with the halcyon Tinseltown that produced Citizen Kane; contemplates the continent that provided him with an artistic refuge some 800 years after the anonymous construction of the cathedral at Chartres; and, lastly, recounts a meeting between that most un-anonymous of artists — Pablo Picasso — and Welles’ companion Oja Kodar, which took place in her youth…”. Rosebud (page 409) describes Kodor as “the naked lady who makes a monkey out of Picasso…”. Apparently, F for Fake is Welles’s definitive statement on contemporary reality. “Trust nobody. Beware especially of (s)he who asserts his/her authority without any proof or basis” is the message. “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the end of the story” is how Welles would have summed it up.