F for Fake (1973)

This essayistic documentary (of sorts) is a brilliantly-edited labyrinth of facts, half-truths and lies if you can get into Welles’ sleigh-of-hand.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Orson Welles
1973 | USA | Documentary | 88 mins | 1.66:1 | English, French & Spanish
PG (passed clean) for some sexual references

Plot: A documentary about fraud and fakery.
Awards: –
Source: Documentaire sur Grand Ecran

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
First Published: 10 Jul 2016
Spoilers: No

F for Fake is a movie you need to open enough of yourself to get into.  You must also share Orson Welles’ quaint sensibilities and appreciate his sleigh-of-hand at work.  His last proper feature is an essayistic documentary that explores ideas of truth (and half-truths), deception and lies. 

And Welles does it in a style that invites disbelief, but at the same time, it comes across as fairly believable.  He self-proclaims to be a charlatan, conjuring up tricks and mind games, leading the way with his (bloated) physical presence and natural charisma.

In F for Fake, the three main subjects of interest revolve around Welles’ thesis—that of fakery and its propagation.  One of them is, but of course, Elmyr de Hory, possibly the most infamous—and talented—of all art forgers. 

The other, of whom de Hory has a symbiotic relationship with, is Clifford Irving, a master trickster himself who claimed to have written an autobiography for the reclusive Howard Hughes, one of 20th century American enigmas. 

“What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I’m afraid the pompous word for that is ‘art’.”

Welles interviews both, making use of an assortment of filmed and archive footage to shape and contextualize the cultural and political impact of the duo’s antics. 

All these are done in a cheeky way—Welles tempts you to treat his film as an intellectual portraiture of the nature of truth, but what underlies the whole experiment is, of course, the work of an accidental trickster. 

The third subject of F for Fake is, not surprisingly, Welles himself—from his unexpected pre-WWII radio farce on ‘War of the Worlds’, to… well, you will find out when you see the film.  Is this a final hurrah by Welles for Welles?  There’s a sense of a fading artiste reminding us of his value. 

The film is brilliantly-edited for sure, like a labyrinthine collage of assaultive ideas and personalities.  But unless you can resonate with Welles and his bag of candies, F for Fake won’t work as fascinatingly as you might think. 

I for one found it a bit of a struggle to enjoy, with zero knowledge on de Hory and Irving, who make up two-thirds of the film, but at least Welles’ poetry for words and imagery still remains intact in his later years.

Grade: B


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