Everything is fake.
“This is a film about lies” says Orson Welles in the trailer for F for Fake. What better introduction to this than a declaration from another film, one confidently settled in its falsehoods, observing?
Minute 9: in an auction house, tense with the gestures and language of bidding.
What comes before that minute is an admission, after, immersion. You are what you believe you are whether it is true or not. A framer, a forger, a dying man, a dealer, a manipulator of truth, life. You look and see that the colours are off, just enough to know what side of reality you belong to. And when someone forges you, creates a version of you that you believe is yourself? You look in the mirror and think, but how could these colours be otherwise, for they are mine. As the song says, “strange, I’ve seen that face before”. Somewhere in the brushstrokes, another self unsure of what it sees, yet somehow knowing it was always to be.
What is your price? Not for the real man, but the fake, the one that will think his time is nearly gone, elaborately set up by Ripley in a pristine doctor’s office to think there is nothing left but desperation. Price what is left when there is nothing to lose. Forge a painting, take a life. There is money in both, besides, you can frame anything in a way to make it more attractive. Your poor shred of time is worth more than you imagine. Who am I? I can be Derwatt, I can be the dying man, I can be a killer. But none of this is present yet, though the future, ever watchful for opportunity, is preparing itself. Just before the nine-minute mark: “The blue is all wrong”, Zimmerman whispers of the painting, a steam train pulling into or pulling away from a station. We cast a critical eye towards the things we slip into the world as deliberate simulacra, but we never can recognise what is wrong when it is closest to us, when it looks back in the mirror.
“Any more bids?”
“Any more bids?”
At 9:38, they glance at each other, Tom Ripley and Jonathan Zimmerman, Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz. Too knowing to be casual, though we do not yet know that they are aware of each other. One’s reputation precedes him, the other’s, overheard. The slip of the brush and tongue that changes fates.
“Going, going …”
The forged Derwatt sells, there never having been any doubt of its authenticity. Our minute ends. “I’ve heard of you” Zimmerman says to Ripley, disdaining the outstretched hand of the man who will determine the rest of his life. In a room heavy with intrigue and connected by deception, morality—no matter how fleeting—has the cutting reek of turpentine. Later, in the back of his shop, he builds a frame, holding it aloft as it surrounds his body in a square halo. In front, Ripley waits: “Can you make a frame for me?”. Both men and frames come apart as easily as they are put together, can be created to fit a need.
The best fakes are the ones that exist in a world where there is no possibility of doubt, where we create that frame of unshakeable belief, even to our own cost. If you create an atmosphere of faith, there will be believers. It is as true of false medical results as it is a real auction room. The lie becomes the man, the fake becomes the painting; as natural as the truth, because it now is.
In Instant Stories, a book of Polaroids and vignettes by Wim Wenders, alongside photos of Hopper and Ganz looking off away from the camera, he shares an anecdote about filming The American Friend, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel Ripley’s Game. Hopper had just come straight from filming Apocalypse Now. Wenders: “When I picked Dennis up at Hamburg airport a different man came walking down the stairs to the one I had encountered in Paris only half a year earlier. He was in short pants, with several cameras dangling from his neck, pretty drunk and high as a kite. Actually, he did not recognize me and wasn’t really sure why he was in Hamburg, of all places.”
Who am I. From Hopper’s reality to Zimmerman’s unreality. Fake it, from one character to another, until you’re yourself again. One man, two men, three, four … the deviations that take us from one life to the next, real or not, all these possibilities. Fake has always been real if you believe in it enough. In the movie, Zimmerman, deceived, believes death is accelerating. What he does is solely because of what he thinks is coming for him. Hopper believed making the film “saved his life” after his experience on Apocalypse Now, unable to differentiate the frames of life and fiction. Glances cross, worlds collide, colours merge, men are disassembled, reassembled. “This sheer infinite lonely place” is how Wenders describes his monochrome Polaroids of the mouth of the Elbe, where Zimmerman will die. An extension of the train track in the forged Derwatt, the sections of frame hanging on the shop wall waiting for assembly, the jungle Hopper leaves to the airplane steps he walks down; a line of sight which goes on forever, one person replacing another.
Going, going, but never quite gone. What is a real colour, a real painting, or a real life but one which changes? A lie is a confidence that has faith in its past, present, and future reality.
Image: photos of Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz from Instant Stories by Wim Wenders