Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ten Years Later, ‘The Hoax’ is Even More Timely in the Trump Era.

Ten years after it's release, the little-seen Richard Gere film THE HOAX remains a fascinating film about truth, outrageous lies and why the bigger the lie, the more people believe it. Based on the real story of a man who convinced his publishers he was working with recluse Howard Hughes on the latter's biography, eventually becomes a great study in tension and paranoia too.

And, in showing how people rationalize even the most unbelievable lies, it seems more relevant today than ever, in the Trump era.

This is the topic of my latest piece for Film School Rejects:

But to return to The Hoax, there’s something appropriate about the uncertainty of historical fidelity in a film about a writer pulling off the mother of all lies. It’s 1971 and Clifford Irving (played with wonderful desperation and cunning by Richard Gere) has just had his latest book rejected by a publisher. Unfortunately, the commercial failure of his last book — about an art forger — has killed his hopes for another project. Like many writers when faced with a “Pass,” he doesn’t take it well and barges into a company meeting to say he’s got the book of the century, something they’d regret passing on — an autobiography of the reclusive Howard Hughes.

It’s an utterly implausible and grandiose lie and — in a manner less surprising in the Trump presidency of 2017 than it was in 2007 — the brazenness of the lie gives it credibility. Who in their right mind would lie about something so easily impeached? Putting the experience of his last book to use, Irving expertly forges notes from Hughes (and it is true that in real-life, handwriting experts said that the odds of being fake were “less than one in a million.”) Hughes’s reclusiveness and erratic behavior also ends up selling the lie. The man was known to be unstable, so bizarrely, and attempt he’d make to disown involvement with Clifford would lack enough credibility to expose Irving.

The real Clifford Irving complained bitterly about the liberties the movie took with his life. Screenwriter William Wheeler agrees with my notion of truth in film, telling The New York Times, “I almost feel like I would not be servicing the material correctly if I didn’t have some mischief in my attitude. I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the things that happened, and the motives of those doing it, and within that, construct my own tall tale, based on Clifford’s tall tale, which is based on Howard’s tall tale. And [director] Lasse [Hallström] did his own spinning on top of mine. And then, Richard.”

Read the rest at FSR: Ten Years Later, ‘The Hoax’ is Even More Timely in the Trump Era.

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