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 »
[quoting a phenomenal art forger]
Do you think I should confess? To what? Committing masterpieces?
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F For Fantastic, Farouche, Fanciful, Farcical, Fabulous.
There is so much zest, wit, fun, cheek, energy in this supremely entertaining film, that it's a crime that Orson Welles never directed another one. It's packed with as many ideas and potential future directions as CITIZEN KANE, but bizarrely hasn't received an nth of that classic's acclaim. Indeed only Godard's later documentaries seem to be at all influenced by this delightful fancy.
The film dazzles on so many levels. As a story about five interesting characters - two art forgers, a charlatan biographer, Howard Hughes (famous recluse, and disseminator of misleading information and doubles), and the great Orsino himself, myth-maker and magician. Their stories, fascinating in themselves, mingle, juxtapose and clash, to provide a complex essay on the nature of art, the links between illusion, life, forgery and artifice.
Elmyr is a master forger whose 'works' appear in many galleries. His story makes us ask: what is art? What is it about art that moves us - the thing itself, or its perceived value? In an age of mechanical reproduction, can authenticity survive, is it a viable (or even desirable) option? Does any of this actually matter? Maybe because everything in a post-modern culture is reproduced, the aura of the original work of art (pace Benjamin) becomes even more powerful. Or maybe a proliferation of fakes, doubles, illusions asks us to profoundly question received truths, official versions, 'authorities', who would make us believe in repressive wholes and canons, stories that tell one experience, and deny many others. Art itself is a forgery, of nature or the imagination - the forger is little different from an interpreter (e.g. Welles and Shakespeare): he cannot help stamping his own personality on the work.
These questions are very complex, and cannot be grasped in one viewing. The film's form is bewildering and exhilirating. Welles promises us, in this tale of fakery, truth for an hour, but this is a truth we must make out for ourselves. Breathless narration; visual puns; the weaving of documentary footage, stills, reconstructions, other films; tireless, confusing editing; rapid subject changes; all manage to disrupt and complicate an essentially straightforward story.
Welles the narrator is an absolute delight, a jovial trickster, with his gorgeous hearty laugh, games, aphorisms, comments, allusions; and yet behind it all is an extraordinarily depressing account of his own career, the perception of failure and broken promises, and the onset of mortality.
The last 20 minutes is an extraordinary coup de cinema, as well as a masterpiece of storytelling. The Legrand music is playful and energetic, before finally slowing down for a very melancholy climax. This film is a remarkable one-off: frustrating, irritating, stimulating, astonishing, hilarious. It always pulls the rug from under your feet, and you gleefully await your next tumble. Only Bunuel began and ended his career with the same passion and genius, the same desire to demand the most from his audiences, refusing to rest on his considerable laurels. Absolutely wonderful.
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