Tag Archives: fakery

The Imposter

The Imposter

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 August 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Picturehouse/Revolver

Director: Bart Layton

Cast: Adam O’Brian, Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson

UK 2012

99 mins

The Imposter tells the story of Frederic Bourdin, a French-Algerian drifter who compulsively impersonates children, and who managed to pose as missing American teenager Nicholas Barclay, convincing both authorities and the boy’s family, and returning with the latter to live in San Antonio, Texas. The film employs techniques more often associated with tabloid television than with theatrically released documentaries: dramatic reconstructions buoyed by histrionic, tension-laden music; to-camera interviews, cinematically lit and shot, in which the subject’s emotions spill forth; and a gradual build-up of suspense, with a slow and well-timed release of important details.

But there are a number of parodic techniques and moments that seem to sabotage or undermine the suspenseful mood and the emotionally heightened story. Sometimes, when Bourdin relates telephone calls he made, a tinny telephone effect is added to his voice. Sometimes his voice synchs up with the lip movements of the actor playing him in the reconstruction. The film demonstrates Bourdin’s expectations of the American authorities by using a brief montage of TV cop shows, including Telly Savalas as Kojak.

Some of the characters, too, appear as movie archetypes, most notably the grizzled private detective with a wild hunch that no one else quite takes seriously. He doggedly pursues Bourdin, babbling to anyone who’ll listen about how Barclay and Bourdin don’t have the same ears. Also, there are numerous implausible details that gradually accumulate (no one challenged Bourdin when he suddenly dyed his hair and got tattooed two days before the Barclays arrived to meet him), which add to the uneasy sensation that Bart Layton’s film is an ‘impostumentary’, an elaborate fake. Even the murky NTSC news footage could be convincingly manufactured, as Chris Morris proved with certain segments of his The Day Today. Indeed, some of the film’s more bathetic moments seem to have a touch of Morris’s unsparing mockery about them.

Yet Bourdin is a real phenomenon, the subject of countless news reports and of a lengthy New Yorker profile in 2008. As his story unfolds, one gets the uncomfortable sensation that a joke is being played. But on whom? On the God-fearing Texan rubes who think that Spain is ‘along the country somewhere’ and are desperate to reclaim their missing boy? Or on the marginalised outsider, unloved from birth due to his mixed-race lineage? On the uncritical credulity of the new emotionalism, the uncritical empathy for the next emotional rollercoaster? Or on the guffawing cynicism that assumes everything is a ‘fake’ or a witting joke that they are hip enough to be let in on?

John A. Riley

F for Fake

F for Fake

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 August 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: BFI

Director: Orson Welles

Writers: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar

Cast: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar

France/Iran/Germany 1973

88 mins

In Richard Linklater’s film Me and Orson Welles (2008) we get an image of cinema’s great auteur as a self-important egotist and an ambitious womanising tyrant. His character is reminiscent of the spoilt brat from his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons‘ George Amberson (played by Tim Holt), whose irritating selfish behaviour leads the town’s people to wish he’d get his comeuppance. The lauded boy-genius Welles was certainly to get his. After two classic (although commercially unsuccessful) films for RKO, Welles’s career stalled. He found himself a washed-up has-been at just 27. The studio’s subsequent motto ‘Showmanship in place of genius’ was surely a personal slight.

His meteoric rise was followed by a steady decline during which he struggled to put together a messy (although occasionally brilliant) body of work - Shakespeare adaptations shot over several years with money from his acting work; a similarly financed but unfinished Don Quixote (1957-1985); an almost finished film - The Other Side of the Wind (1970) - confiscated by the Iranian government following the fall of the Shah; and at least one classic B-movie-noir. This sporadic filmmaking career was to end with F for Fake (1973).

It is ostensibly a film about the Hungarian art forger Elmyr de Hory, who claims to have painted many of the Modiglianis or Matisses still housed in top galleries, and de Hory’s biographer Clifford Irving, who himself faked an ‘authorised autobiography’ of Howard Hughes. Welles spent a year editing together footage from a documentary on de Hory by Franí§ois Reichenbach with scenes of himself telling stories and doing magic tricks (also shot by Reichenbach). Welles, of course, can’t resist talking about his own former glories as a faker. The famous story of his War of the Worlds radio broadcast (1938), which panicked America, is retold over re-edited footage from the 1956 sci-fi classic Earth vs the Flying Saucers (directed by Fred F. Sears).

It certainly poses illuminating questions about authorship. De Hory asks what it is that makes his paintings inferior to the originals when no expert can tell them apart. But perhaps more interesting is what the film adds to the debate on cinematic authorship - being made by perhaps the studio system’s most undisputed auteur. Stylistically it doesn’t look like a Welles film - there are none of his trademark directorial flourishes, no deep focus or elaborate crane shots - but it is undoubtedly a personal film. My favourite version as to how Welles came to make the film is that he was asked to provide the voice-over for a documentary about the art forger - Welles’s rich sonorous voice was much in demand for voice-over narrations - and took it over to make a film about himself.

Welles was to claim, ‘I believe a work is good to the degree that it expresses the man who created it’ and, by that standard, F for Fake must be a masterpiece. However, the picture of the creator is much less critical than in Linklater’s film. One suspects it is merely presenting us with Welles as he would like to be seen: the cape-wearing, entertaining storyteller/magician who appeared on TV chatting to Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett or Johnny Carson. Perhaps the film that best reflects its creator (and in the least flattering light) is Chimes at Midnight (1965), where Welles surely recognises himself in that great corpulent braggart, Falstaff.

It somehow seems fitting that the great auteur’s career should end with him cutting up someone else’s film and making something truly personal out of it; but that this personal vision made with total freedom from studio interference should result in endless shots of his new starlet/paramour Oja Kodar’s bottom and an urbane monologue about himself is a little disappointing.

Paul Huckerby

I Know Where I’m Going!

I Know Where I'm Going!

Format: DVD

Release date: 7 July 2003

Distributor: ITV Studios Home Entertainment

Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Writers: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Cast: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey and Pamela Brown

UK 1945

91 mins

At the heart of I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), co-directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is a dilemma between fakery and authenticity. Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) is a determined woman who believes that she has chosen the right path in life. Her plan is to marry a rich businessman and see that she has all she materially needs in life. The film follows her journey up to the Hebrides where her wedding is due to take place but from the start nothing seems to go her way. First, she loses her itinerary, and then the weather is so bad that she cannot make the crossing across to the island of Kiloran for the ceremony. Powell and Pressburger were masters of creating fantastical and mystical stories. In this film, they conjure up a sense of adverse forces that work against the supposed desires of Joan. I say ‘supposed’, because after each obstacle Joan loses her drive to pursue her strategic marriage a little bit more. It seems that all Joan needs is a bit of time, some woolly jumpers and a good dose of Scottish down-to-earth straight talking and she will see sense and be true to herself. Down with airs and graces and up with following your heart!

What has always stayed with me about the films of these directors is that they manage to put together this argument against the fake and the untrue with a range of cinematic mechanisms and fabrications. One story, warmly remembered by fans, is about the male lead, Roger Livesey, who plays Torquil MacNeil. His character is the dashing down on his luck laird of Kiloran. He has had to lease the island to Sir Robert Bellinger, Joan’s fiancé. Joan is a bit disgruntled at this, as she expects Belinger to be landed gentry, but it is Torquil who seems more in touch with the genus loci of the island. We see him situated in the rolling hills of Mull where the film was shot, or at the foot of an ancient castle: he is a man defined by this Scottish location. True to their belief in the theatricality of cinema, Powell and Pressburger created his character on screen with some crafty tricks. While they wanted Roger Livesey as the lead for the film, he was also booked to appear in a West End play at the same time as the shoot in Scotland. What we see on screen is a combination of close-ups of Livesey filmed in studio and wide over-the-shoulder shots where a be-kilted body double took his place. The effect is a convincing portrayal and a cheeky twist to any simple reading of the film. Powell and Pressburger create a world where folklore and natural phenomena are extolled, where whirlpools and gusts of wind seem to have agency. Yet, they do this with models, sleight of hand and faith in their audience to suspend disbelief.

Nicola Woodham