F for Fake
October 5, 2005
Made late in Orson Welles’ life, F for Fake (1972) is an odd movie. Not exactly a documentary but rather a film essay on forgeries and the nature of authorship. The movie also continues the filmmaker’s life-long fascination with magic. He performs a magic trick at the beginning of the movie and says, “A magician is just an actor.” F for Fake is, arguably, Welles at his most playful. He introduces the movie by saying, “This is a film about trickery, fraud, about lies,” and then goes on to claim that what we are about to see is based on fact. It gradually becomes apparent over the course of the movie that the line between fact and fiction is blurred beyond recognition so that one constantly questions and thinks about what they are being told and seeing. Welles pokes fun at the artifice of a movie by continually stating that his is based on fact even when it is obvious that he is lying.
The first segment focuses on famous art forger Elmyr de Hory who became frustrated after the art world failed to acknowledge his original work and got revenge on them by making flawless copies of established masters like Picasso. Welles also takes a look at Clifford Irving who wrote a book about de Hory and went on to pull off his own fantastic hoax. He faked an autobiography about legendary tycoon, Howard Hughes.
The film also addresses the nature of authorship. De Hory makes such faithful fakes that sometimes the actual artist is fooled. Irving’s faux Hughes’ autobiography caused such a stir that the real, reclusive Hughes made an audio statement denouncing the book. Why did Irving do it? Like de Hory, his own material wasn’t being appreciated so he decided to stick it to the establishment and to the experts, exposing them for the frauds that he felt they were. By Welles’ reasoning, if Hughes refused to remain an active public figure then to satisfy the public’s desire for more information it is up to a forger, like Irving, to fake it. As the saying goes, the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.
Welles adopts a very experimental structure that mixes documentary footage with material that he shot himself. He then proceeds to edit segments out of sequence, jumping all over the place, seemingly without any rhyme or reason. Upon repeated viewings it becomes apparent that the editing is done deliberately for a desired effect.
It is safe to say that F for Fake is unlike any film Welles had done before. He clearly has an affinity for his subjects. After all, he was responsible for one of the greatest hoaxes: the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1939. There’s a youthful energy and vitality to this movie that is so much fun to watch and get caught up in. Left to his own devices, Welles continued to be an innovator and with F for Fake he pioneered a new hybrid movie: a self-reflexive documentary cum film essay.
The first disc features an introduction by film critic and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich in which he puts the movie into context and attempts to classify it.
There is an audio commentary by star and the film’s co-author Oja Kodar and cinematographer Gary Graver. Kodar, who was Welles’ partner in life and in art, talks about how personal this film was for Welles. What makes her comments so interesting is that she is coming from the perspective of someone who was very close to the man and she tells some good stories.
Also included is a nine-minute trailer that Welles created for the movie with additional footage that he shot after it was made.
The second disc starts off with a real gem: “Orson Welles: The One-Man Band,” a feature-length documentary about several of the filmmaker’s unfinished projects. Welles spent much of his life hustling to get money for his movies and left several in limbo because he didn’t have the resources to finish them. There are some fascinating clips from his work, including The Other Side of the Wind, his last movie, unreleased and still in need of editing.
“Almost True: The Noble Art of Forgery” is a straightforward look at Elmyr de Hory that tries to examine who this guy really was and his turbulent life right up to his apparent death that some think he faked.
“60 Minutes Interviews Clifford Irving” was conducted in 2000 and gave him a forum to explain why he lied to the show way back in 1972 about faking the Hughes’ autobiography.
Finally, there is the “Howard Hughes Press Conference” that was shown briefly in F for Fake but is featured in its entirety.