Faking the Real...
Realising the Fake
 
 

It is quite hard to talk about a remake, which is a commission, but which you end up putting as much, if not more effort into than an original. I was asked to consider the possibility of a remake of Bob le Flambeur and began writing, having viewed again the original film. The story was tiny, almost like a miniature, about a clapped-out gambler who planned a casino robbery, and as the robbery went awry, got lucky at the tables. The style of it was serene and beautiful, but you can't, or I can't, make a movie about style. So I came up with a story of a double heist, a fake one that was a diversion for a real one, within which the original story could play itself out, upon which I could play a variation. The fake heist would involve, like the original, the robbery of a casino on the night of the Grand Prix. The real heist would involve the theft of a collection of paintings that had come to grace the casino walls, like the Bellagio in Las Vegas, which has its own collection of Picassos.

I remembered an article I had read about Japanese corporations who, when they buy European art, get perfect copies made to grace the corporation boardrooms, to preserve the originals in a temperature-controlled vault. I ran with this idea then, of perfect copies of the art on the casino walls, the originals in a vault nearby and realised the plot was becoming a riff on the idea of fake and real, of an original and a copy, which was in fact, oddly enough, what I was doing, making a copy of kinds, a remake, of an original, the Melville film. I began to look again at other movies then, among them Jules Dassin's Rififi and
John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle. I realised that of course Melville's movie was a kind of response to Huston's film, his Bob a kind of French version of Sterling Hayden's character. Now a remake may or may not be an interesting proposition, but a film about remaking, about the interplay between fakes and originals, became very interesting to me indeed.

So I began to write—meaning coherent scenes, dialogue, character, as opposed to scribbled notes

 

on planes and restaurants—and somewhere out of these ideas of the real and the fake the character Bob emerged: a middle-aged American gambling and heroin addict, left adrift by reason of a criminal past in a France that seems largely of his imagination. Bob himself was a fake, continually reinventing his past to get out of whatever fix he found himself in. Melville's Bob had talked little, of course, like, as I said, a French version of Sterling Hayden. But this Bob talked incessantly, about thievery, numbers, probability theory, gambling, art, as only fakes can. His hero was Pablo Picasso, who he regarded, perversely, as the best thief that ever lived. His prized possession was a Picasso, which he claimed he won during a bet with the master in the bullring at Pamplona. "Pablo bet on the matador, I bet on the bull. The matador got twenty-six stitches, I got a painting…"

There's an element of luck in writing and luckily Bob came alive as a character. But then this Bob's theme was luck, the kind of mythological luck that would change a scam artist into a real one. His dream was of the impossibly complicated heist with a shape that had to be aesthetically pleasing. He proved suitably complicated for the double-plot I had come up with. And as this Bob moved through the story, the theme of double replicated itself. Two robberies, two versions of every story.

Eventually this Bob himself solved the problems inherent in the idea of a remake. Because this Bob liked copies, replays, versions of versions, feints, old hands played in different ways. Even the Picasso he owns is revealed to be a double of the original, a fake. He replies, without losing a beat–"it's a good fake, though. Painted by Paul Keating, one of the truly great fakers. I met him at a betting shop in Croydon, gave him a tip for the Cheltenham Gold Cup…"

Now there is a real Paul Keating, who made quite a good career for himself as an art-forger, before the law caught up with him. He lives in London, and his fakes, paradoxically, are now sold for serious money... but as real fakes.

©2003 Landmark Theatres