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.)

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  1. Eat my shorts.

  2. Our Dear Leader-POTUS-Trump is a faker, too… When is He going to jail?

  3. “People keep saying we live in a “Post-Truth Era”…”

    It would be more accurate to say we live in Post-Trust Era.

    1. I thought at first that Post-Blind Era might be more accurate. But that’s not true either. Everyone’s still blind, but they know that blindness is a thing, and so pretend to not be blind. Is that progress?

    2. Sociologist Harold Garfinkel wrote a lengthy treaty on trust, insisting that, once breached, trust can never be fully recovered & that the idea of “building trust” only brings trust into question. But even today, politicos & press preach building & restoring trust: according to Garfinkel, a futile effort.

      1. “…once breached, trust can never be fully recovered…”

        That’s what Dr. Laura always says. But she also says families can learn to live together without it.

  4. Nope – they’re close, but it’s the Post-Rational era we’re living in now. Things like math, science, logic, and even facts no longer hold sway. They’re not the final arbiters any more. The liberals won in academe and so what matters now is consensus, likes, feelings, and screaming loudly enough.

  5. If I recall “F for Fake,” Irving appears about 2/3 of the way thru the doc & talks about forgery w/ Welles & Elmyr de Hory. Then they listen to the news revelation that Hughes claims Irving’s bio is a fake: the infamous interview w/ a telephone; which is Hughes supposedly speaking to the press from his penthouse.

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