Orson Welles' free-form documentary about fakery focusses on the notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory and Elmyr's biographer, Clifford Irving, who also wrote the celebrated fraudulent Howard Hughes autobiography, then touches on the reclusive Hughes and Welles' own career (which started with a faked resume and a phony Martian invasion). On the way, Welles plays a few tricks of his own on the audience.Written by
An excerpt of Welles' legendary 1930s 'War of the Worlds' broadcast was recreated for this film; however none of the dialogue heard in the movie actually matches what was originally radio broadcast. See more »
The word "practitioners" is misspelled "practioners" in the opening credits. See more »
[Pretending to quote a conversation between herself and Picasso]
The best critical opinion is a load of horse manure.
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Like magic, this is all show and no meat--which means it's a brilliant empty success
F is for Fake (1973)
Like many, I'm an Orson Welles fan. Not just his films (the best of them are among the best ever made) but also the man, for his rebellious side and his persistence. And his flaws, undermining his own best purposes.
But this movie struck me as affected, overly long, baroquely complicated, and finally just off-putting. Yes, it's incredibly well edited, and for that, if that's your thing, you should see it. But to me editing is part of something larger, and this larger thing is troubled.
I saw no reason to really care about the subjects here. The deliberate confusions (borne from the editing, in part) are half art and half avoidance, in a way. The documentary truth about the subjects, the supposed subjects, a French painter of forgeries and a writer about Howard Hughes and a forged check, is not really the goal. Nor is it possible. So what we have instead is the ride, the process of talking about these various man and their rich compatriots from all kinds of colorful places.
There is a limited range of footage at use here, most of it home-style 8mm color stock of the two or three main participants (call them suspects, call them actors, call them fakes) which was shot by a different filmmaker and turned over to Welles. This is interspersed with high quality footage of the narrator, Mr. Welles, in his deep voice and characteristic hat. And there is a little additional footage, including the dubiously connected opening scenes where Welles's own young attractive partner parades in a mini-skirt on a public street, only later to comment that such an act came out of her "feminism."
Okay. Maybe this is all part of the lie that gets incorporated as the truth. When you play games with truth and lies some interesting conflicts are intended. But for me, this beginning and the long end where a fictional series of paintings has been made by Picasso (not actually) of this same Welles companion (whose name is Oja Kodar) is pure voyeurism on the part of the director. Why he wanted to share his woman publicly I couldn't say (but can guess), but in fact the filming at these points takes on a very different sensibility.
In style, the rest of the movie strikes me as stunted, though endlessly interesting because of its constant cutting and jumping from one scene and format to another. In content it all seemed circuitous for effect without the necessary thrill of caring. The result avoids clichés beautifully, which is good (in fact, what the film has most of all, in a Welles way, is originality). But it also ends up being at times more style than effect. That is, the effects, which are so evident, are superficial.
Which leaves very little. Without a compelling subject and a convincing formal presentation, what is there?
So what about the huge reputation this movie has? Let's assume it's more than just Welles worship. I think for one it has anticipated the growing public interest in art forgery. It also creates a fascinating zone where a documentary isn't about establishing the truth, and so is a kind of third category--the fiction film using found footage. (To some extent this is the core of it--Welles has used existing footage and led our reading of it to create his own subjective "truth" of it.) There are aspects here all over the place. Aspects and aspects of aspects. For this, there is a formal invention that might have been enough when I was younger. Now, for whatever reason, it feels self-indulgent and, like the first scene in the movie, pure deception.
Maybe that's the point.
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