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The Truth is a Tricky Subject

  • Jan 29, 2010
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"F for Fake," the last film Orson Welles saw to completion, is nothing if not complicated.  Like the man himself, this film wanders and ambles, drifts, is occasionally brilliant and often frustrating, but never anything less than entertaining.  The main premise of the film is a question, a question that Welles spends the entirety of the screen time trying to answer: What is truth? and more specifically How does truth relate to art?

Most of the film is an examination of Elmyr de Hory and his biographer Clifford Irving, both fakes, de Hory as a world renouned art forger and Irving as an author for having falcified an autobiography of Howard Hughes.  This is where the film begins to get convoluted, as Welles ties the tales of these two men to that of Hughes, Picasso, and himself.  But the film is not a documentary, nor a biography, but an essay set to film, it is Welles' take on what it is to be true by examining what it is to be false.  Can art be false? he asks, Can beauty be false?  If de Hory's paintings are just as wonderous, just as perfect as the those he copies, are they any less "art?"  And if Irving's autobiography tells the story of Hughes so well that it finds the truth, does the fact that Hughes was not involved really matter?  Where does art end and forgery begin?

As the film progresses Welles interjects and fills in gaps, adds more stories to the mix, and appears to be enjoying himself immensely.  Through the use of clever editing he spins all the loose ends into a conversation between himself and the viewer, a conversation that, one may point out, is fake.  But it is not until after the first hour, an hour which Welles repeatedly points out is purely factual, that the twists become evident, that all the loose ends are leading to one beautiful falsehood.  To this end he brings in Joseph Cotten to lie about "Citizen Kane," his own muse Oja Kodar to lie about herself, and even himself to lie about all the lies.

Perhaps the two most stunning scenes of the film occur in this last section.  The first involves authorship and annonymity.  Is an object considered art because of who created it, or is it the inherent beauty of the object?  For this he brings back de Hory and asks if his paintings are any less important than those of the masters whom he copies, and if, once everyone involved is dead and gone, will it matter who painted them so long as they are appreciated for their beauty?  The second involves connvolusion and the very concept of fakery and is told as a conversation between Welles and Kodar in which he plays Kodar's grandfather and she plays Picasso.  They recount a conversation between the two men that Kodar claims to have witnessed regarding 22 fake Picasso paintings created by her grandfather.  And this is where things break down.  Kodar's grandfather may or may not be de Hory, she may or may not have ever met Picasso, and Welles may or may not have made up the entire thing to prove a point: what is truth?  Does belief make something true?  Or do facts make something true?  And what happens in the gray area inbetween, in memory, in fantasy, and in art? 

The truth is that no one can ever really answer such questions, for art exists outside of the concept of truth and fakery.  Art is that which we perceive to be beautiful, not that which is true.  Welles understands this and blurs these lines, questions the facts and questions the very nature of what a fact is.  He plays at being an imposter and brags of being a charlatan.  But in the end, what truth is there to be found in the words of a liar?  Perhaps more truth than one would guess.

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February 04, 2010
Wow! Interesting review. I had never even heard of this film. Sounds rather bizarre! I will keep my eye out for it.
More F for Fake reviews
review by . August 26, 2010
With a great creative genius like Welles, how can one tell when he is lying?
Orson Welles’ 1973 docu-drama “F For Fake” is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering investigation of the natures of authorship and authenticity, as well as the basis of the value of art. Loosely a documentary, the film operates in several …
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Justin Freiberg ()
Ranked #531
I love art, all forms of art. Be they painting or film or literature or dance or scotch Ilove all the beauty that man has brought forth on this planet, from the earliest cave drawings to thepure blinding … more
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About this movie



Trickery. Deceit. Magic. In Orson Welles’s 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.

  Orson Welles   Oja Kodar   Elmyr de Hory   Clifford Irving   François Reichenbach   Gary Graver   Pablo Picasso?

Credits Director Orson Welles Written by Orson Welles and Oja Kodar Photography Gary Graver Music Michel Legrand Editing Marie-Sophie Dubus and Dominique Engerer
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Director: Orson Welles
Genre: Documentary
Release Date: September 1, 1974
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Screen Writer: Orson Welles
Runtime: 1hr 25min
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