Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

'Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery" DVD: A Documentary Portrait of The Artist As A Con Man

Product Details
Icarus Films particularly earns its reputation as a purveyor of "provocative and innovative" documentaries regarding the November 17, 2015 DVD release of the 2014 German film "Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery."  This portrait (pun intended) of talented artist Wolfgang Beltracchi comprehensively tracks his almost 40-year career, reveals his tricks of that illicit trade, and also profiles his literal partner-in-crime/spouse Helene Beltracchi. We further learn the reasons for his using his talents for evil, rather than for good.

The following YouTube clip of the SPOILER-LADEN "Beltracchi" trailer tells you a great deal about the man and his art as well as the skillful manner in which his story is told.


Scenes in which the son and the daughter of the Beltracchis are interviewed while sitting side-by-side on a couch hilariously looks like something out of the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother." In this case, the kids discuss thinking that their father was a not-so-prolific artist. Footage from home movies further show that these offspring had a typical childhood with a funny and loving father.

Similar scenes show a wonderful dinner party in which adult friends of Wolfgang and Helene joke about their various misperceptions regarding the careers of that couple. An especially amusing scene has one friend offer to let Wolfgang sleep in a basement room of the home of that friend following an impending unfortunate incarceration only to have Wolfgang decline that offer for the reason that those accommodations are too much like a jail cell.

Like any good con artist (again, pun intended), the titular Beltracchi is a witty and charming rogue who skillfully produces a believable product and creates a plausible accompanying story. His niche in the art forgery world is using his own work to fill documented gaps in the works of recognized great artists.

An entirely false hypothetical example of this modus operandi is starting with an actual story of 19th century artist Paul Gaugin painting a "lost" portrait of the daughter of a Tahitian friend while visiting that family. Using that story as a starting point, Beltracchi would masterfully paint his vision of that painting in the style of Gaugin, use the aforementioned tricks to make the 21st century painting seem much older, and take the necessary steps to have is sold as a Gaugin, A fascinating actual scene from the documentary has Wolfgang posing Helene in a photograph that is intended to look as if was taken in the relatively distant past.

One of the most amusing aspects of the venture (and in the movie itself) that film maker Arne Birkenstock documents, is the habit of Beltracchi to paint in a manner that he believes enhances the work of the artist who "inspires" that work. In other words, everyone is a critic.

As Beltracchi communicates, a large part of the game relates to people wanting to believe that they are buying something special. The economics lesson in "Beltracchi" continues with the silly aspect of perception in the art world. The success of the scheme relates to the exact same painting having infinitely more value when presented as the work of famous artist, rather than as an original Beltracchi. At the same time, the subsequent notoriety of Beltracchi makes these originals very valuable in the current art market when presented as his work.

The elements that both make the tale of Beltracchi worthy of a film and that make that effort to tell that story succeed relate to the aforementioned charm of the latter and the related respect for him by Birkenstock. Although the victims of a crime, the buyers of the paintings received the physical bargained-for items. It further seems that none of them exhausted their life savings or even invested a significant portion of their liquid assets on their expenditures. Additionally, these pigeons received at least partial restitution and obtained a good story for their own dinner parties.

The DVD special features include an interview with Wolfgang and Helene and a documentary on art authenticators at the studio of Wolfgang.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Beltracchi" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.