No one likes to be duped whatever the situation. When the hypnotic gaze on the camera is from none other than the ‘charlatan’ himself Orson Welles, you can’t help giving yourself up to him. The Criterion Collection continues its expansion into the UK market with F For Fake (1974), a lesson in trickery, deceit, and magic.
Is it a documentary? Or simply a free-form film essay? Has the master magician finally pulled the rabbit out the hat for the last time? Is the magician now ready to reveal how did the trick?
F For Fake, we see the legendary actor filmmaker, the self-described Charlatan. He’s reengaging jovially with the central preoccupation of his own career. A Tenuous line between illusion and truth, art and lies.
Welles presents two portraits, one of world renowned art forger Elmyr de Hory and the man who followed him. His equally devious biographer Clifford Irving. Welles embarks on a journey that simultaneously exposes and revels in the fakery and fakes of all stripes. Not least of whom is Welles himself.
Charming and inventive, F for Fake is an inspired prank and a clever examination of the essential duplicity of cinema.
Welles himself takes centre stage not just as the director, editor but also our narrator. From the first minute of the film already testing or wit on what is the truth and what is pure fabrication…”Ladies and gentleman, by the way of introduction, this is a film about trickery, fraud, about lies”
We first meet in an old train station (somewhere in Europe) performing magic tricks with a coin to children. We see Welles standing in front of a white screen in the station. When the camera pans in, the screen is removed he’s now in a studio. This resonates very much with today’s films, everything these days it’s a green screen. From locations, fight scenes to the actors themselves including dead ones!
To tell this story, Welles doesn’t use actors but Elmyr de Hory a Hungarian art forger who could uncannily recreate a Picasso or a Matisse. Not copying an original but creating an entirely new artwork in the artist’s style. He made a fortune on these pieces, arguing his right to do what he did. Living comfortably on the island of Ibiza, whilst his story is documented by another hoax, Clifford Irving.
Irving a wannabe biographer was fascinated by de Hory that much he was a ‘fake’ himself. He was the so called ‘biographer’ for reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes book. A book that forced Hughes to release a recorded statement denying ever meeting Irving.
Orson Welles never considered himself an actor or a filmmaker, merely a magician with a film which a conduit to magic. It was a ‘great hoax’ in 1938 would earn Welles notoriety with his radio adaptation of The War Of The Worlds.
The editing style of F For Fake is like a masterclass on how to edit a film properly. Perfectly blending fact and fiction, by asking the right questions. Even asking if the person who is telling the story is a keeper of truth or not?
F For Fake was Welles’ platform to unleash his own frustrations about his career and critics. After Citizen Kane, critically his career was like a rollercoaster of cynicism and appraise. Troubles not only coming from those who reviewed his work but the studios themselves. This could also be the reason why he had so many unfinished projects.
One could argue F For Fake is a fitting finale curtain call for the cinematic giant who helped to shape and inspire the industry. This was to be his last film and this richly rewarding experience attempts to tackle those burning questions before his own morality kicked in. Our question are did the master reveal all his tricks? It makes take several watches to fully appreciate this. What you’ll get in the end is an intriguing, provocative, entertaining film.
Paul Devine | [rating=4]
Documentary | USA, 1974 | 15| 30th July 2018 (UK) | The Critertion Collection | Dir.Orson Welles | Orson Welles, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, Oja Kodar,
Picture & Sound | [rating=4]
Once again The Criterion Collection exceed themselves in what they present in the final package. F For Fake is presented in an aspect ratio of 1:62:1 encoded MPEG-4 AVC with a 1080p Transfer. The transfer they deliver is solid even if it feel date at times, but still very nostalgic feel to it. It’s grainy at times but only because some scenes were shot in 16mm (other scenes 35mm). The detail at times feels fragmented with spots and dirt every so often. It gives the film a raw, organic touch, even a little personal as if you were sitting in front of a projector with the great man.
The audio comes in a LCPM 1.0 mix (uncompressed). A simple mix that really does the task in hand, present the dialogue in the best possible way. Everything is crisp, clear but not in a dynamic way, though things still keep a nice balance.
Extras | [rating=4]
This film up until now was available on Blu-ray via Masters Of Cinema (Eureka Entertainment) and the extras do vary. Oja Kodar and DoP Gary Graver provide the film’s commentary.
If you had the U.S DVD Import from 2005 a lot of these extras will be familiar to you. A series of interviews, essays, documentaries that delivering a fantastic insight into the film and Welles in general. Peter Bogdanovich gives an interesting intro. There’s a full episode of Tomorrow a 1975 U.S Television show (44minutes) in which Tom Snyder interviews Orson Welles about the difficulties of the film, his frustrations, magic, his career in general.
Orson Welles: One-Man Band is 88 minute documentary about the myth, the legend of the magician himself. It contains original content that looks at the myths behind the director, half-truths and those half-finished works. If your keen to know more about The two hoaxers highlighted in F For Fake you’ll love the 2 documentaries. Almost True: The Noble Art of Forgery, brilliant 52-minute documentary from 1997 about art forger Elmyr de Hory. Top that is 60 Minutes interview from 2000 with Clifford Irving about his Howard Hughes autobiography hoax. Fascinating to hear the mindset of the two men in question. You can even hear the recorded statement Howard Hughes made about the hoaxed Biography.