Orson Welles: F For Fake

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Filed under: Illusion and Magic, Media Literacy

A film review by Shane Lavalette /Journal, November 10, 2007:

F For Fake, by Orson WellesOrson Welles is generally known for his 1938 radio broadcast of the science fiction novella War of the Worlds. If not for that, then for co-writing, directing, producing and starring in Citizen Kane (1941), commonly referred to as "the greatest film ever made." Orson Welles is, however, not so known for his last major film, F For Fake (1974) – a pseudo-documentary and playful meditation on "art, experts and fakery." Here's a quick synopsis taken from The Criterion Collection (released the film on DVD in 2005):

Trickery. Deceit. Magic. In Orson Welles' free-form documentary F for Fake, 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 embarks on a dizzying cinematic journey that simultaneously exposes and revels in fakery and fakers of all stripes-not the least of whom is Welles himself. Charming and inventive, F for Fake is an inspired prank and a searching examination of the essential duplicity of cinema.

The critical reaction to F for Fake ranged from praise to confusion, with many (especially in Welles' home country) finding the work to be "indulgent" and "incoherent," rejecting it on these grounds. But over the years, the film has grown to be not only widely accepted but also considered a classic.

I loved the film for the avant-garde editing, with short cuts (almost by the second) throughout. Never before have I seen a "documentary" assembled in this fashion and never would I imagine it working so well. Additionally, film's story and underlying themes held my attention.

"It's pretty but is it art?," asks Welles. "How is it valued? The value depends on opinion, opinion depends on the expert, a faker like Elmyr makes fool of the experts – so who's the expert? Who's the faker?" The film questions whether or not it matters that a work of art is "fake" if it's still a masterpiece, made by hand. And furthermore, as Welles' narrates,

Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash – the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life: we're going to die. "Be of good heart," cry the dead artists out of the living past. "Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing." Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much…

image: criterion.com