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There's no good excuse for being fooled by one of Alan Abel's hoaxes. He first went on New York TV news in the early 1970s posing as Omar the Beggar, an instructor in the art of panhandling. During hard economic times, it seemed plausible. But as Abel's daughter points out in her chronicle of her father's oddball career, people — and the media in particular — love an outrageous story. She includes footage of Omar doing TV interviews in 1981 and 1987, each time in a more ridiculous fake mustache, spewing the same old story about "securing non-repayable loans from strangers."
Jenny Abel will attend the screening of her 2005 documentary Abel Raises Cain, so attendees can inquire about her role in one scam as a 4-year-old who could cry on cue. The film is a loving portrait, but it is full of amazing TV footage from the four-decade career of a man who should be recognized as one of the world's most prolific pranksters.
In the late 1950s, Abel stumbled upon his first hoax rather innocently. He was stuck in a mini traffic jam while a cow and a bull copulated in the road in front of the drivers. He noticed how uncomfortable many of the other witnesses were and started a campaign calling for all animals to be clothed. Wearing a suit and armed with nothing more than a drawing of a horse wearing shorts, he found it easy to walk into TV stations and get on the evening news. As long as he maintained a serious tone, few would question his identity or cause. For decades, rallies protesting breastfeeding as "incestuous" never failed to outrage talk radio callers. When Dr. Jack Kevorkian was in the news, Abel ran advertisements for a "euthanasia cruise" for seniors who wanted to relax on their departure.
The movie is full of hilariously offbeat causes and stunts, and it includes interviews with TV personalities who fell for Abel's antics. His work thrives on the opposite of a story being too good to be true. He trafficked in outrage, and the most easily offended people seem to be the most gullible. Abel never sought to make money or become famous from his charades, a la Candid Camera, and he wasn't a political activist, like filmmaking duo The Yes Men. He's neither smug nor disdainful, and by the end of the film, it's hard not to find him as charming as his daughter clearly does. Free admission. — Will Coviello
Abel Raises Cain
7:30 p.m. Friday
Cafe Rose Nicaud, 632 Frenchmen St.; www.neworleansafrikanfilmfest.org