2020, Movies

Made You Look (2020, Barry Avrich)

This is a very well done, but very straight-forward, art fraud documentary that is apparently so new I can’t even rate it on IMDB yet. It turns out I was already familiar with the story – we think through an episode of American Greed – but the access the filmmakers get and the skill with which they balance the interviews makes the film very worth your time.

The case is the biggest art fraud case in US history. (You may have heard of it.) Though I had seen a TV episode about it, I had forgotten most of it. But that TV episode didn’t have the same effect simply because of the sheer amount of access these filmmakers got. Though one of the perpetrators does not participate, the two others do, as does the gallery manager who was either in on it or duped, as do many other people either directly or tangentially involved (including the ADA who prosecuted the case). In addition, the filmmakers fill in the gaps by interviewing some experts in art fraud and criminal justice. The breadth of the interviewees is pretty impressive.

But what works better is the juxtaposition of the interview clips, in essence it functions like an oral history of the case. The filmmakers do an excellent job of presenting both sides of the story – i.e. “The gallery manager was in on it” vs “The gallery manager was duped” – as equally as possible. And they let the comments play off each other, leaving the viewer to pick a side based upon the comments of the interviewees and the evidence they present. It’s clear the filmmakers have a side, but they do a very good job – far better than average – of hiding that side and letting the people speak for themselves. This is something that is very rare in documentary filmmaking.

The film is very conventional but it is a pretty textbook case of how to make one of these films and it hits all the buttons if you are a fan of the art fraud subgenre of documentary.

8/10

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