Orson Welles directed, narrates, and stars in ‘F For Fake,’ a 1973 film he co-wrote with his partner Oja Kodar through his production company Janus Films. It is sometimes described as a documentary, sometimes a docudrama, and often as a film essay, but one thing is for sure, it is one of Welles’ most contemplative movies.
Orson Welles opens as a magician wowing children at a train station in Europe while Oja Kodar looks on. Here he describes fakery and fraud before moving into discussing Elmyr de Hory. He goes into Hory’s history as a famous art forger and how he scammed collectors and galleries alike. He describes his life as a celebrity following his prison release and his friendship with another fraud Clifford Irving, who wrote a fake autobiography of wealthy recluse Howard Hughes. From here, Orson discusses their alliance and how the two fraudsters worked together to save themselves from financial ruin. Meanwhile, Oja and Welles discuss the nature of deception and quoting Picasso, “Art, [Picasso] said, is a lie — a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
The trend of turning biographical documentary into arthouse avant-garde works was one that I usually rolled my eyes at. As an example, The World of Peter Sellers, a similar one about “Pink Panther” actor Peter Sellers was nothing more than a poorly cut feature that was pitched as some sort of deep character story. Not so with this movie. Critics, of course, hated it and raged against it as “confusing.” While I will admit, some of it did seem out-of-focus, I found the contemplations intriguing.
While it is true that Welles works in this arthouse vibe, he narrates the story and for an hour treats us to the tale of Hory’s career and downfall, plus Irving’s involvement. In-between, Welles discusses deception and how when it is applied to art, it can be used to illuminate the truth, as it did with Hory and Irving. Welles’ commentary is sharp as he draws connections to “coincidences” in his own works including his infamous War of the Worlds radio presentation and Citizen Kane. He is incredibly perceptive with his observations and the fable he tells of Oja’s affairs with Picasso is a good illustration of what you can choose to believe.
Now, this is my own opinion, but I wonder if Welles was not simply discussing Hory, Irving, and the truth, but also about the film industry. As stated above, he drew connections to some of his own works and the stories he is telling. Could he be talking about how Hollywood makes forgeries with some of their films? This is just a theory, but one thing that stands out is the fake quote from Hughes where he laments leaving Hollywood. It is mentioned twice. Perhaps it is how he sees the entertainment industry. Their fakes, frauds, and artists all working in tandem to bring a film to life. When asked if this was a documentary, Welles replied, “No, not a documentary — a new kind of film.”
Bottom line, F For Fake is an ambitious film that only Orson Welles could pull off. It can seem dense in a few spots, but I thought it was a profound look at how fakery affects art and how art can expose frauds.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Foul language, Brief nudity
FAVORITE QUOTE: Ladies and gentleman, by way of introduction, this is a film about trickery and fraud, about lies. Tell it by the fireside or in a marketplace or in a movie, almost any story is almost certainly some kind of lie. But not this time. No, this is a promise. During the next hour, everything you’ll hear from us is really true and based on solid facts.
Check out the trailer below:
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. Tell me if there is a comic book, movie, or novel you would like me to review. While you are at it, check out my movie reviews for The Dark Crystal and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more posts like this one.