F for Fake
Special Edition, Criterion Collection
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Trickery. Deceit. Magic. In Orson Welles' free-form documentary, the legendary filmmaker (and self-described charlatan) gleefully engages the central preoccupation of his career-the tenuous line between truth and illusion, art and lies. Beginning with portraits of world-renowned art forger Elmyr de Hory and his equally devious biographer, Clifford Irving, Welles goes on a dizzying cinematic journey that simultaneously exposes and revels in fakery and fakers of all stripes-not the least of which is Welles himself. Charming and poignant, F for Fake is an inspired prank and a searching examination of the essential duplicity of cinema. Criterion's two-disc DVD edition also features an introduction by Peter Bogdanovich, audio commentary by director of photography Gary Graver, an hour long documentary on Welles' unfinished projects, a documentary on the life and works of de Hory, and the theatrical trailer.
To call Orson Welles's F For Fake a documentary would be somewhat deceitful, but deceit itself is very much the subject of this curious film essay. Welles ruminates on the nature of artistic fakery through two examples, that of infamous art forger Elmyr de Hory and the writer Clifford Irving, whose bogus autobiography of Howard Hughes set off a minor media flurry in the 1970s. Postmodernist that he is, Wells then proceeds to narrate and edit the film in such a perversely frenetic way as to blur the lines between what is real and what is deception, making for an often confusing but engaging work of art in itself. We even see the footage we've been watching as it's being spliced together in Welles's editing room. The specter of Welles's often maligned later career hangs over the proceedings like a challenge--is he going to actually complete this strange movie about chicanery, or will it become one of the many unfinished experiments of his twilight years? Happily, Welles concludes the proceedings with a delightful sequence about Picasso, lust, and what constitutes real art. F For Fake is a fine example of a master filmmaker who had at least a couple tricks left up his sleeve. --Ryan BoudinotSee all Editorial Reviews
- Video Introduction by director Peter Bogdanovich
- Audio commentary featuring director of photography Gary Graver
- Orson Welles: One-Man Band (1988), an hour-long investigation of Welles's unfinished projects
- Almost True, a 1992 Norwegian Film Institute documentary on art forger Elmyr de Hory
- 10-minute trailer
- New essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum
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The last major film Orson Welles completed, "F for Fake" is a hidden, seldom seen (except by Welles fans, which I am happy to declare myself) seventies classic that examines truth and fiction in documentary. Welles's channels his ability to be ahead of the curve. The film has a dual focus: one upon art forger Elmyr de Hory's amazing career; and another bolstered by a then-timely portrait, ever skewed, of Howard Hughs's "hoax-biographer" Clifford Irving, who set in stone the image of Hugh's decline and fall as a hirsuite, bearded OCD-riddled oddity.
For Welles's admirers, it seems there are those who love "Citizen Kane," and "The Magnificent Ambersons" and perhaps "Touch of Evil" only, and those who value "Chimes at Midnight," "Othello," and others that reveal an artist who had not peaked in his first efforts but continued to evolve throughout his amazing career.
Like Gaddis's great, labyrinthine American novel, "The Recognitions," "F Is for Fake" addresses many of the same questions, at a small, breezy 87 minute pace, and served as the film I kept checking out from university libraries when I hauled around Gaddis's entertaining if massive sprawling tome of a novel.
The "Mockumentary" as it were, is an interesting mix of the real life drama and criminal endeavors Clifford and his wife experienced, resulting from the Howard Hughes biography hoax, which they planned and executed to defraud their publisher. There is also the relationship between Elmyr "The Worlds Greatest Art Forger", and Irving his biographer, friend, neighbor, frequent party guest, and possible collaborator??? I can't really say. You will find it interesting how the lines between illusion and reality are blurred here, which is what Welles intended by virtue of the style, editing, and subject matter. F For Fake is an interesting piece taken on the whole and fascinating in some of it's detail!
Everything about this film is the timing, and it's done perfectly.
"F for Fake" is an essay on representation. In it, Welles manages to gloss that ineffable as much as fundamental aspect of fraud in art. By drawing upon his career and that of an art forger and his hoax biographer, Welles actually spelled out 'representation's double flip', where, in a hurling of the senses, the artist mimics the very act of making art. The 'metaphor of the metaphor' is at once breathtaking and terrifying as it reveals the precarious foundations by exposing the jocular element of authorship even in highly dramatic art. For those less inclined to intellectualize, Welles also provides a visual distillation of his unmistakable style; the film comes with its own wine-spills, gargantuan meals, facetious remarks, and flamboyant juxtapositions. "F for Fake" is a clamorous film, a tragedian's grandiose gesticulation dangerously exposing the pantomime in art: it is a razor's edge which is fatal to all but few artists. Orson Welles was one of the latter.