Late on the night of Nov. 20, Columbus artist Elena Asofsky was on social media. She was scrolling through her platforms and kept seeing references to something called “Goncharov.”
She hadn’t heard of it before, but since she follows users who frequently recommend Russian literature and cinema, she assumed everyone was talking about a book.“It’s this very involved discourse, saying things like, ‘Oh, people think the violence is overdone but I actually think it’s really important to showcase,’” said Asofsky, a 23-year-old native of Maryland and graduate of Bryn Mawr College, who moved to Columbus in July.
“I’m just kind of like, ‘Huh, well, that sounds really interesting. It’s probably just another Russian novel that I haven’t read yet that all my friends on here are into.'"
Later, when the artist learned "Goncharov" is actually a fictional Martin Scorsese film concocted by the internet, she was inspired to create. And her fan art for the movie not only gained traction on Tumblr, but caught the eye of The New York Times.
“Sometimes, I get very lucky as an artist, and an image will just come to me fully formed,” said Asofsky, who intends to work as a substitute teacher in Columbus but currently freelances as an artist. “That’s exactly what happened with this one. I could just see it with perfect clarity.”
As The New York Times reported, a few days after mentions of “Goncharov” exploded online, the “movie” was created by fans. The product of multiple imaginations tickled by the notion of inventing, and then elaborating upon, the project is a fictitious, 1970s-era addition to the filmography of director Martin Scorsese. It “stars” Robert De Niro as Goncharov, a Russian mafia figure, who pulls up stakes and moves to Naples, Italy.
De Niro is joined by a high-wattage “cast” that includes Al Pacino as Mario Ambrosini, Harvey Keitel as Andrey “The Banker” Daddano, Gene Hackman as Valery Michailov and Cybill Shepherd as Katya.
According to The New York Times, talk of “Goncharov” has gone on for years on Tumblr, sparked by an initial post of a snapshot of the tag on some “knockoff boots” that read, mysteriously: “Martin Scorsese Presents ‘Goncharov.’”
From there, other Tumblr users dreamt up details about a movie that only existed in their minds. A poster, featuring a pensive-looking De Niro in an overcoat and carrying a machine gun, is the work of an artist in Prague, The New York Times said.
After initially believing "Goncharov" was a novel, Asofksy was fooled again.
“I’m talking to my roommates, and I’m like, 'Can we watch it? Can we have a movie night?’” Asofsky said. “One of them who is a little bit more in the know than me tells me, 'No, it’s all fake — it’s not real.’”
Still, Asofsky was fascinated.
“All the themes that are being imagined, that are going into it — the pretension of it, the high stakes, the melodrama, the way people are reading homoerotic (layers) into this very violent film — all of it is made up." she said.
As Asofsky digested the backstory to “Goncharov,” she decided to create art featuring Goncharov (De Niro) and Daddano (Keitel) in a passionate embrace while one holds a cigarette and the other a knife.
“Having fandoms that I’m not a part of wash up onto my social media feeds, (I) had a sense of what people are interested in and what people like looking at,” she said.
After Asofsky posted her fan art on her Tumblr account, she was contacted by a reporter from The New York Times who interviewed her for the article about the fictional film.
“This is, by far, the wildest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Asofsky said.
A representative for Scorsese contacted by The Dispatch said the director was in postproduction on a project and not available for comment, but a TikTok post by the filmmaker’s daughter, Francesca, strongly suggests that he knows about the fan-driven hoax.
The final question: If “Goncharov” actually existed, would Asofsky want to go see it?“Oh, 100 percent,” she said. “This is right up my alley.”
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus artist contributes to fake Martin Scorsese film Goncharov