Friday, February 02, 2018

A For Fake

When Orson Welles made F for Fake, he came to the Balearics. The film focused on Elmyr de Hory and his art forgery. The writer Clifford Irving also featured. He had published a biography of De Hory as well as a fabricated biography of Howard Hughes.

Welles went to Ibiza. He was to later say that he had gone in search of a forger and found himself surrounded by them. This was in the 1970s. It might not be that different now. And nor might Mallorca have been different either then or now. Welles knew Mallorca. He was one of those who went to Robert Graves' place in Deia. Or did he? There are doubts as to whether the two ever met.

If Welles were alive today, he would be intrigued by contemporary fakery. His career had been bookended by fakery. F for Fake was the last film he actually completed. The radio adaptation of War of the Worlds wasn't his first success but it was what brought him major fame. The news reporting style of the 1938 production seemed so authentic that it caused a major panic. Welles was famous for a form of fake news.

Everything about F for Fake, he was to also say, was a trick, even down to his role as an unreliable narrator. It is possible to interpret the film in various ways. One is that it was Welles questioning the point at which the authentic ceases to be authentic. When that stage is reached, everything that follows is fake or can be suspected of being fake.

There is a square in Palma named after Welles. It is, somewhat inauspiciously, in the Son Gotleu neighbourhood. Welles certainly stayed in Palma, but his association with the city and the island is not strong. Why a square in his name? Maybe it was more a case of his association with Spain rather than Mallorca specifically. But as there is a square, there is also a chance that at some point it might form part of some cultural route. (They like routes in Palma and Mallorca.) Enjoy Palma's cinematic heritage; something like that.

The route wouldn't, however, be authentic. That's because of Welles being represented by name rather than a deed relevant to the city. Authenticity in tourism has become an issue in its own right. Researchers Jane Lovell and Chris Bull write: "With the rise of post-truth and fake news, a thorough examination of authenticity has never been so relevant." Their book, Authentic and Inauthentic Places in Tourism (subtitle From Heritage Sites to Theme Parks), sets out to provide such an examination.

An academic work, it nevertheless raises important issues in terms of what is real and what is fake. "Real-real authenticity" comes, for example, from somewhere or something being genuinely recognised for its heritage. It requires no "staging". The opposite is "fake-fake": inauthentic, too "staged". In other words, the heritage is made up. Welles as part of a hypothetical cinema heritage would certainly not be "real-real". It would be highly staged.

Authenticity, craved by certain tourists in search of real experience, can be difficult to discern because of all the "fake news" flying around which claims that there is authenticity when there isn't. In this context, the authors also consider the virtually real, that of social media, and how this feeds into perceptions of authenticity (or not). People will take to the likes of TripAdvisor or their blogs and give chapter and verse about authenticity without necessarily having the remotest idea what they are talking about.

And it isn't only social media. The established media can play the game just as well (or just as badly). There was, I well recall, Louise Redknapp, who once informed her readers about the authentic nature of Puerto Portals. Authentic of what?

Mallorca is in fact blessed with a great deal of authenticity, much of it restored, revived and revered. The Tramuntana Mountains are genuinely authentic. They are "real-real" with no need for there to be any "staging". It is the mountains' cultural heritage which is authentic; hence the attempts to ensure that it is not altered, such as by having holiday rentals over the protected areas. Then there are some of the fiesta events. There may be an element of the "staged" with them, but that's because much has been revived. They aren't exactly as they were, but they are as near as damn it.

There is plenty which is inauthentic as well. No resort, for instance, can be deemed authentic. It is an impossibility, yet this doesn't prevent social media commentators (and others) insisting that certain ones are, often because they supposedly have a "genuine Mallorcan feel". Meaning what precisely?

This is the authentic as fake - A for fake. If Welles were still with us, he would no doubt find appealing his fake cultural heritage. It was all a trick, after all.

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