This documentary is the perfect combination of an unbelievably strange story, a compelling character and a well-made film.
Mark Landis is soft-spoken, skinny, bald, fragile-looking. He now lives alone in the apartment he shared with his mother in her elder years. He is surrounded by paintings, art supplies and other detritus. He is the centre of the film, unashamedly talking about himself and his strange exploits. For decades he has been copying famous works of art and donating them to museums and galleries across the United States. He has multiple aliases and fake documents authenticating the history of his pieces. Even after multiple news stories, museums keep accepting his work.
His nemesis is Matt Leininger, a one of the many registrars and curators duped by Landis. He has since made it his life's work to track down Landis's donations and prevent him from making more. This white knight is just as complex as Landis. He lost his job due to his obsession and when his tiny daughter is shown a photo and asked who it is she knows the answer: Mark Landis.
Landis suffered terribly after the loss of each parent. He is a sensitive soul. Honour is highly important to him, a belief he learned from his father. Since copying art is the one real gift he feels he has, this twisted operation is the only way he can find to use it. I don't think Landis did it for the attention or to feel like a big shot. He is a solitary individual and his main source of human contact seems to be doctors (who don't remember much about him) and the people he meets through donating art. Landis is good at what he does but since he doesn't need to fool top level authenticators, he uses pretty low brow techniques including painting over colour photocopies. What he does is not illegal.
The story culminates at the University of Cincinnati museum which mounts a show of Landis's story and work in order to explore ides of creativity and authenticity in art and to educate people about forgery and plagiarism. Landis is invited, shows up and asks to be introduced to some nice people to talk to. Then he wanders off.
Every facet of this fascinating story is probed to just the right degree, with some angles left as hints for us to ponder. One of the most delicious prospects of the film is how many more fakes might still be circulating. Go see it!
Oct 6 4:00 pm at SFU Woodwards
Oct 10 7:15 pm at Vancity Theatre