Film Viewings of the Week: F for Fake (1973) & Lightning Over Water (1980)

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F for Fake (1973)

Orson Welles' F for Fake (1973) takes on a strange approach in an almost visual essay format, channelling aspects of fiction and aspects of documentary. The film is made up of tricks, reversals, interviews with real forgers and re-creations of events that never happened. The most prominent storyline that is present and is the easiest to grab hold of is that of Elmyr de Hory’s, a well-known art forger. Welles draws on existing documentary footage of de Hory and his biographer Clifford Irving as well as shooting his own footage. Welles’ subject, de Hory expresses no remorse in making a profit off of constructing fake works of art from famous artists, saying in reference to one of his faked Modigliani’s, “I don’t feel bad for Modigliani, I feel good for me”. This plays into Welles’ exploration of false identities perfectly as what we might take away from F for Fake is that even though the name of a celebrated artist can easily be stolen and the work forged, is it still not art? This could possibly be looked at as a comment from Welles himself on the subject of authorship and what exactly constitutes a work of art – whether it is automatically devalued when the identity behind the work is altered. Ironically, In 1971 the renowned, and sometimes reviled film critic Pauline Kael wrote an essay for the New Yorker entitled “Raising Kane”, which set to discredit much of the involvement Orson Welles had had in his debut masterpiece, Citizen Kane. Kael accused Welles of being a charlatan, a faker, an art thief, and a fraud, assertions that deeply hurt the director. Is it any surprise then that two years later, Welles would write, direct, and star in (as himself) a work, which focuses almost exclusively on charlatans, fakers, art thieves and frauds? What’s most interesting about F for Fake though is that as the writer, director and star of the film, there is a certain amount of trust the audience places with Welles to lead them in the right direction, a trust that is broken many times throughout the film. Welles holds that power in his hands and he chooses to take advantage of it. Similarly, Welles will contradict himself by arguing against the importance of authorship while making his own presence as the author of the film so present and so irrefutable.
F for Fake (1973)
Dir. Orson Welles
Starring Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory, Joseph Cotten
89 mins | USA

Lightning Over Water (1980)

Lightning Over Water (1980), also known as Nick’s Movie or Nick’s Film, a collaboration between Rebel Without a Cause (1955) director Nicholas Ray and the German film director, Wim Wenders, is in some respects astoundingly similar to Welles’ F for Fake. But at their cores, the two films are really nothing like the other. Both films take liberties in combining documentary footage and staged scenes without indication of which is which, and both showcase art forgery, and trickery and stand as exercises in the fluidity of reality. However, unlike F for Fake which takes pleasure in teasing and manipulating the audience, Lightning Over Water has decidedly more heart. Lightning Over Water documents the final days and weeks of the life of Nicholas Ray, who at the end of his life, gaunt and slow-moving, is devastatingly blunt while facing his inevitable death. At one point in the film, Wenders speaks frankly with crew members saying he doesn’t believe that Nick would have fought to survive as long as he did, had he not had a film project in the works. In a sense, the content of Lightning Over Water would not have mattered much to Nick or to Wim or to any other close to the story, but rather its import lies in its making-of. Nick is a convincing actor when playing the part of himself - stretching in bed and hacking out coughs in between already-decided dialogue between himself and Wim, where Wim feels stunted in his actions. Perhaps its because Nick had had more experience with acting than Wim, or maybe Nick felt he was only playing the part of his dying self, his final part to play, where Wim felt the reality more, being the outside observer. Either way, Lightning over Water is sickeningly sad to watch but enormously thoughtful and heartfelt.
Lightning Over Water (1980)
Dir. Wim Wenders, Nicholas Ray
Starring Wim Wenders, Nicholas Ray, 
91 mins | West Germany

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