F for Fake

While watching Stories We Tell I thought a lot of its themes, ideas, and execution were pretty similar to Orson Welles’ famous documentary F for Fake. Sarah Polley even cited it as an influence in one of the interviews we watched.

Stories We Tell explored the idea of truth as it relates to memories and stories, while F for Fake explored truth as it relates to art. Orson Welles explores the story of a famous art forger to bring up the ideas of truth. With art forgery, you never know if the piece you are looking at was actually created by the artist you think. Elmyr, the art forger in the documentary, was apparently able to convince the best experts that his paintings were actually Picassos or other famous artists. F for Fake really makes you question whether most of the paintings you’ve seen are real or fake, and it makes you ask whether it even matters in the end. Stories We Tell makes you ask the same questions about memories and stories.

F for Fake is an especially interesting documentary because it makes you question the authorship of itself. Orson Welles edited the documentary, but he did not create most of the footage contained within it. He just took another documentary about Elmyr and recut it to explore the themes he wanted more deeply. He also added a few of his own segments. So Welles makes you further question authorship of art through the idea that new art is just inspired by old art and manipulates old art to be something new.

There is also a segment in F for Fake where Welles begins telling a completely made up story that sounds plausibly true and then reveals it was fake. This is similar to the way Polley made fake footage of her mother and family members when they were younger. It turns out none of it was real, but aren’t the ideas behind them still important?

So Polley’s ideas aren’t new, but as F for Fake asks us, are any ideas really new and does it matter in the end?

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