F FOR FAKE (1973)

F For Fake - Orson Welles'The Criterion Collection' have recently released a digitally remastered version of 'F For Fake', directed by and starring the great one himself, Orson Welles. This magnificent 88-minute movie is complemented by a number of special features, such as expert audio commentary provided by Oja Kodar and Gary Graver, a personal introduction voiced by Peter Bogdanovich, as well as trailers, featurettes, interviews, essays, plus other such associated paraphernalia. Please enjoy.

F For Fake (The Criterion Collection)

Clifford Irving and Elmyr de Hory are two men that have one thing in common. They're fakes, they're both notorious fakes. While Clifford was awarded his notoriety after writing a scandalous book based on the life of the rich industrialist, Howard Hughes, Elmyr, on the other hand, shot to prominence because he's a well-known forger of art, forging paintings previously illustrated by the likes of Van Dongen, Matisse, Molinari, and even Michelangelo, to name but a few.

Yes. That's correct. I said, Michelangelo. Who, come to think of it, was also a famous faker until he saw the error of his ways and started producing original works of his own. But that aside, let us get back to the subject at hand: Fakes! Or to be more specific about it, how two men got away with faking their way through life. 

Now, in the case of Elmyr, the ability to forge art grew out of his own talents as well as the inept posturings of so-called specialists in the field. In Clifford's case though, well, I'm afraid to say that's a slightly more complicated situation, in part, which stems from Howard Hughes being a reclusive recluse who's constantly been plagued by misinformation, media speculation, and people taking advantage of his secretive ways. 

Well, I should know, because I too take advantage of any given situation whenever they arise. I first did this in Ireland when I was a boy by tricking my way onto a stage in Dublin. I then did it again in America by scaring the populace with a staged radio play. And now, yes, I'm doing it once more. For I am Orson Welles, the actor-director, and that is why what next transpires goes from bad to worse when I start following a sexy Hungarian lady. As a writer gets a very lucky break - a forger realizes what's at stake - an artist is tricked by a sexy snake - and at the end of the day, who's to say what is true and what is fake? 

Now in a strange way (and with all due respect), 'F for Fake' is a fake documentary made by a fake director about a fake artist who creates fake paintings bought and evaluated by other people who are also fakes'. Yeah, true story. Although to call someone like Orson Welles 'a fake' is as fake as all the other fakes I've mentioned already, sacrilegious too. Ha!

F For Fake - Oja Kodar
Seriously though, overall this film is a brilliant film, superb in fact, simply because it's well made, well constructed, and encapsulates an idea which is truly fascinating to follow. I mean, without putting a too finer point on it, what actually constitutes a fake and is that necessarily a bad thing or not? For instance, is it wrong to purchase a forged painting with a forged check? Or alternatively, if an artist duplicates one of his own pieces, who's to say if it's an original or an inferior version? 

Go on! What would you say to that, dear reader? What would you say to the whole notion behind homages? Pastiches? Tributes? And the ever-reliable remake? Are all of them as worthless as the 2016 version of 'Ghostbusters'? (Say no more) Or are they as valid as the very nature of art itself?

Well, during the director's commentary, I heard the adorable Oja Kodar, Orson's muse, ask us a question that runs along fairly similar lines: Does forged art still constitute as being a valid art form despite its somewhat dubious reputation? Now, before watching this film, I would have categorically said no, plain and simple, because in my opinion art is a passionate expression of original ideas filtered through a creative lens, one that ranges from painting, directing, acting, sculpting, drawing, and of course, writing, among others. But then, once I watched this film, I changed my mind in part, largely due to it teaching me the real value of talent, true talent, regardless of its intent or its fiscal rewards.

Well, let's face it. Should we judge art on its monetary value or its inherent value? While keeping in mind what's one man's gold is another man's poison! So who's to say you can measure the value of something just by how much it costs? Besides, I always think that taste is subjective and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not the pocket of the person counting the cash!

F For Fake - Clifford Irving and Elmyr de Hory

F For Fake - Orson Welles
Anyway. That's enough of that for the time being. As I think that this is a pretty good time to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) This documentary was first screened at the San Sebastián Film Festival in September, 1973. Coincidentally, this was the same month another theatrical masterpiece also had its silver screen debut: 'Mean Streets', directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. (2) Loosely translated, this production was entitled 'B Like A Bluff' in Sweden; 'H as in Counterfeiting' in Hungary'; and 'With False F' in Venezuela. (3) As I'm on the subject of alternate-names, during pre-production this flick was given a number of different working titles. This includes: 'Fakes', 'Hoax', 'Nothing but the Truth', as well as 'Truths and Lies'. (4) The majority of this movie was shot on location throughout France, Ibiza, and America. In France, you might be able to notice Orly Airport, Chartres, Houdan, and certain parts of Paris, whereas, in America, there's Beverly Hills, California, as well as Las Vegas, Nevada. (5) The seductive actress who appears at the start and at the end of the film is none other than Oja Kodar, who in real-life was Orson's actual girlfriend. The lucky bugger. (6) Other celebrity cameos judiciously inserted into this film include: Joseph Cotten [Orson's co-star from 'Kane'], Clifford Irving [the famous American novelist]; Nina van Pallandt [a famous singer from Denmark]; Laurence Harvey [best known for his role in 'The Manchurian Candidate']; and François Reichenbach, Gary Graver, Peter Bogdanovich, and Richard Wilson [four fellow film directors], among others. (7) The version of 'War of the Worlds' recited in this flick wasn't part of Orson's original 1930s radio broadcast. Rather, it was a re-creation that used modified dialogue. (8) When this film was eventually released in America, two years after its first screening, 1975, it was complemented by a 9-minute short film, otherwise known as 'a trailer', which was almost entirely composed of original material not found in the main film itself.

F For Fake - Elmyr de Hory

In closing, I would just like to point out a couple of observations regarding the construction of 'F for Fake', doing so by referring you to another great film directed by Martin Scorsese: 'Casino', released in 1995. Now if you've watched this film (which I'm sure most of you have), then there's a pretty good chance you've noticed how its narrative structure occasionally diverts off the beaten track. Sometimes this is done to explain how the casino operates behind the scenes, whereas at other times this is done to expand upon a character's backstory or origins. Either way, these diversions don't always have any inherent value to the current story being told. Yet, what they do have, is substance, depth, and a profound overview normally overlooked by other crime-based dramas.

F For Fake - Orson Welles
Have you got that? Good, because Orson Welles does a very similar thing with this film too! Just like Marty, he cleverly edited his project together in such an avant-garde fashion that each sequence goes back and forth, between plot and narrative, by adding an extra layer of knowledge every time we segue into a topic of note. Obviously, this can sometimes feel slightly confusing, disconcerting in fact, but it still manages to relay exposition in a dynamic and charming manner that's fairly captivating to behold.

Also, something else about this movie that's well worth mentioning, were those enjoyable autobiographical sequences where Orson talked about his own experiences being a faker. Well, not only do they make us understand him marginally better, both as a person and as a creative individual, but in addition to this, it also gives this film a nice, warm, personal touch that's associative by design. After all, this was the last full-length film Orson ever directed while he was alive, so in a strange way, it felt fairly fitting that a sequence was included that recounted his own rise to stardom. I would also like to mention that Elmyr de Hory committed suicide three years after this film was made (a drug overdose), along with the fact that Clifford Irving was arrested and sent to prison for seventeen months because of the book he wrote about Howard Hughes. Yeah. No word of a lie! As I wouldn't want to mislead you, would I? 


F FOR FAKE (1973) F FOR FAKE (1973) Reviewed by David Andrews on August 20, 2018 Rating: 5

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