F For Fake (1973)

Written & Directed by Orson Welles

Orson Welles is one of those larger than life figures that commands the room, screen, airwaves, heck he would probably even command my milk money if given the chance. Yet, I had only seen his first ever film, even if it was his most famous. So like so many before him, I turn to his documentary work now to further investigate this mad genius. It seems strange. All of these magnificent, top-100 directors of all-time, are famous for their fiction films, but it seems, at least with the last few, they also do documentary work. I find that very telling of them as filmmakers. Of the last few documentaries I have examined for this marathon I have commented on the fact that I found their work to be fascinating because of the curiosity shown. I feel that curiosity also shows here and in general is a necessary attribute to be a good filmmaker. Nothing makes up for natural curiosity about the world around us.

So F for Fake is a documentary about fakes and the ability to fake and what it all means. The main narrative surrounds two men, Clifford Irving and Elmyr de Hory, or better known simply as Elmyr. And it is a fascinating story. Clifford Irving is perhaps most famous for submitting the autobiography of recluse Howard Hughes only to be found out that he had faked it. Elmyr is best known as the world’s greatest art forger of the 20th century. I knew nothing of either of them before this film, but Welles paints the picture quite clear, these men are fakes. So when Irving writes the biography of Elmyr, entitled Fake!, what does it mean? Two fakes working together, does that mean what they produce is fake too? There was so much fake about this movie, yet Welles promised me at the beginning that he would tell the truth for the entire hour!

As a documentary the story matters with the final product and here it is very interesting, but it really is the style with which Welles covers the story that makes this a great documentary. Welles paints the picture with outstanding editing both of picture and sound and couples it with his own commentary straight from the cutting room. With a film like this, Welles’ presence is essential, since that is why most of us are tuning in, but even more because he is the man with all the talent. His voice, his ability to tell a story are magnificent. Even if he was not a filmmaker, I would try and argue he was the best storyteller of all time and I have only seen two of his pictures. The man famous for his own fake, The War of the Worlds, chronicles two other fakes real lives by making a real documentary instead of a fiction film. Hmm…is it all so real?

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