Clifford Irving and His Fakes

Friday A/V Club: The con man as artist and the artist as con man



Clifford Irving—a journalist, novelist, prankster, and con man, sometimes all at once—died this week. He is infamous for following up Fake!, his 1969 biography of the celebrated art forger Elmyr de Hory, with The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, which purported to be the reclusive billionaire's memoir "as told to" Irving. In fact, Hughes had as much to do with composing The Autobiography of Howard Hughes as Picasso or Modigliani did with producing the paintings that Elmyr attributed to them. Irving had committed an elaborate fraud, and he wound up going to prison for it.

Orson Welles directed a documentary about the affair, 1973's F for Fake. Welles' film is itself full of fakery, some of which he eventually reveals to the viewer and some of which he leaves us to discern for ourselves. (Robert Anton Wilson once called it "a fake documentary about the impossibility of ever making a 'true' documentary.") As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best movies anyone has ever made, and I can't think of a better way to bid Irving farewell than to watch it:

People keep saying we live in a "Post-Truth Era," but I have yet to find any evidence of this Truth Era we've supposedly left behind.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For another installment featuring Orson Welles, go here.)