The inaugural Screen Shadows season in Winter 2011/12.

Curated by John Bloomfield and Alexander Graham.


It is of course only natural that we begin our season with a film by Orson Welles. Cinema’s most accomplished liar, a hoaxer on an interplanetary scale and a man who famously began his career after a spell as a magician, only to admit in his final film that he was ‘still working’ on illusions. Even in the films that Welles starred in without directing, we watch hawk-eyed, scanning his vast frame for evidence of some deceit, traces of some cinematic slight of hand. Often Welles can be blamed for nothing more than being a simple agent of misdirection, a decoy. It is after all Carol Reed, not Welles, who in the famous scene in The Third Man (1949) applies the supreme law of narrative to bend the laws of physics and cinema,  contriving to make the black car appear to block the path of Holly Martins for the extra split second necessary for Harry Lime to disappear. The film brings about this illusion by effectively showing us the same action two separate times and from two separate viewpoints. Very shady indeed. However, even when such fakery cannot be directly attributed to him, it seems that Welles is never far from the scene.

If we begin our season with a film by Welles it is not just because he himself is such an appealing poster-boy (we, for one, couldn’t resist) for every playful rogue and charlatan who ever stepped behind or in front of the camera. F For Fake (1973), in exploring the convoluted mesh of lies around the art forger Elmyr De Hory, draws attention to the different ways in which film, outside even of narrative, has a whole arsenal of methods by which to fake: adopting the guise of a form we might associate with truthfulness, misrepresenting space and time and playing with on-screen action and off-screen voice. Welles points out early on that ‘almost any story is some kind of lie’ before going on to expose lighting rigs, set changes and editing equipment in the same sequence.  If one implication of this could be the demystification of film as a production process, then the very artifice of filming such a preconceived insight suggests an agenda beyond that of mere trickery and its exposure on the part of Welles.

The other four sessions of this season will explore some of these methods and their consequences in greater detail. Paired together, Nanook of the North (1922) and The Girl Chewing Gum (1976) examine how exactly the stakes of authenticity and fakery change when a film purports to tell the truth. Storm Over Asia (1928) and The Searchers (1956) allow us to examine how films can mythologise very specific historical moments, in which hostile encounters between dominant and marginalised civilisations occur, through the staging of minority cultures and ethnicities. How might the faking of Native Americans have inflected the historical narrative of America’s youth, or have shaped aesthetic perceptions of the American West? How might implying a direct genealogical link between a twentieth-century Mongol fur trader and the twelfth-century Golden Horde inform a critique of imperialism in the Far-East, and what does this say about the cinema’s role in promulgating the myth of a culturally sensitive, ‘benevolent’ Soviet expansionism? Finally, Vertical Features Remake (1978) and A Walk Through H (1978) ask how far a lie can be pushed and where it can be taken. How important is scale to the fib? Are we more likely to believe in the surreal world of ‘H’ or the sober academic forum of ‘Vertical Features’?

Why do we find ourselves drawn to fakery and fibbing in film? At the heart of what is appealing and interesting about these ciné-shams is a crucial contradiction. One the one hand, any filmic representation can be read as a strategy of manipulation and therefore of fakery. On the other, the indexical link of film does much to disavow the suspensions of disbelief inherent to other art forms and other media. Films show what is or what was ‘really there’ without asking us, as theatre might, to imagine that the thing in front of us is real. Film is at once essentially duplicitous and essentially truthful. We believe that this season will highlight how diverse and ingenious are the strategies that filmmakers pursue both to construct and to challenge cinematic illusions, and hope that it will demonstrate how worthy these questions are of our renewed interrogation.

Fri 4/11 F For Fake (1973) – Orson Welles [8pm] @ Oxford House

Halfway between showman and swindler, Welles narrates this playful film essay about fakery, authenticity and authorship. Looking initially at the lives of art forger Elmyr de Hory and hoaxer Clifford Irving, F For Fake ultimately serves to ask several intriguing questions about the relationship of Fakery to film.

Read the program notes here.

Fri 18/11 Nanook of The North (1922) – Robert Flaherty [8pm]
+ The Girl Chewing Gum (1976) – John Smith
w/Intro by AL Rees (RCA) @ Oxford House

One of the first feature length documentaries, Nanook of the North depicts the life of an Inuit family in the inhospitable but very photogenic Canadian Arctic. For this session we have decided to pair it with The Girl Chewing Gum, a seminal work of British Artist’s film that explicitly engages with the kinds of debates that have surrounded Nanook for decades. AL Rees, author of ‘A History of Experimental Film and Video (1999)’ shall introduce the session.

Read the program notes here.

Fri 2/12 Storm Over Asia (1928) – Vsevolod Pudovkin [7.45pm] @ Oxford House

The literally translated Russian title “The Heir to Genghis Khan” indicates the incitement to atavistic struggle that drives Pudovkin’s measured and resolute move beyond the film-mythologies of the Bolshevik revolution, in this historically charged epic based on a story of two unconnected thefts and one mistaken identity. How does a young Mongol fur-trader rebel and come to political consciousness? And just what does an Imperial British army garrison and trading outpost hope to gain by exploiting the falsehood that has come to define their captive?

Read the program notes here.

Mon 12/12 The Searchers (1956) – John Ford [7.30pm] @ Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club

Two major armed conflicts, the U.S. Civil War and the Franco-Mexican War, blight the past of Ethan Edwards, a soldier returning to his North Texas homestead. When a hostile Native American tribe embarks on a rout, the settlers are confronted with more complex questions of nurture, identity and racism than a straight shoot-out or rescue mission could ever give rise to. John Ford directs this examination of cultural dogma and hidden guilt set in the historical antechamber to the explosion of modern America.

Read the program notes here.

Tues 20/12  Tulse Luper Films (1978-9) – Peter Greenaway [8pm] @ Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club

Vertical Features Remake (1978) charts the attempts of a group of rival academics to remake Tulse Luper’s seminal but lost film ‘Vertical Features’ or ‘Vertical Lists’. In the second feature of the program, A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist (1978), the narrator recounts a journey taken through ‘H’ aided by a series of drawings arranged by Tulse Luper. But what is ‘H’ and who is the mysterious Tulse Luper?

Read the program notes here.

To accompany the season we have also been blogging about fakery in film. Click on the titles to read the posts.

Bloomfield. John, ‘Fakery in Film #1: Juve Versus Fantômas (1913)’

Graham. Alexander, ‘Fakery in Film #2: Groucho Marx, or the Seductions of an Imposter’

Bloomfield. John, ‘Fakery in Film #3 ‘Fresh Meat (2011)’, ‘Mean Girls (2004)’ & ‘American Pie (1999)’

Woodcock. Jesse, ‘Will the real Alan Smithee please stand up?’

Brennan. Douglas, ‘F For…Rotoscoping?’

Wallace. David Foster, ‘Fakery in Film #4 Selections from the Filmography of James O. Incandenza’

Bloomfield. John, ‘Fakery in Film #5 Faking Place in ‘How Green Was My Valley (1941)’


2 thoughts on “Fakery

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