F for Fake aka Vérités et mensonges (Orson Welles, 1973)
A documentary about fraud and fakery.
Throughout his career Orson Welles has been a director “maudit”. Just for his making of Othello and Falstaff for instance, he had to shoot during spans of months and years because of lack of financing for his personal projects. He managed to make his films like he wanted them to be and left a mark in the imagination of cinephiles for more than sixty year with the most celebrated film of all time: Citizen Kane. This is the story of a newspaper tycoon. Welles is tricking its audience on believing who was and who wasn’t Charles Foster Kane. As for its technical aspect, two thirds of it is cinematic trickery and lookalikes. It has had repercussions by creating a real typhoon in the business in the size that only Orson Welles could have provoked. Since then, and even before, Welles has been a master at magic tricks, fake, fraud, trickery, and most of all storytelling. This is why F for Fake might be one of Welles’ most personal projects.
Often categorized as a documentary, the movie that Welles directed isn’t just a simple film or just a documentary. It is a study on how as viewers we are eager to believe anything that we are told and how it is possible to forge great masterpieces of Art, History, mysterious persons, and even to trick an audience. F for Fake is the story of Elmyr de Hory the most successful Art forger of the 20th Century and his biographer Clifford Irving. Both are frauders in their own spheres and they have succeeded when imitating and lying about their works. Welles brings us to reevaluate the experts in Art and everything we put a high price on just for the sake of its evaluation.
It was Pauline Kael who wrote that F for Fake was not a Wellesian picture because it doesn’t have the master’s signature. Welles responded by saying that he really cared not to put anything that reminded of his visual touch, this is why the editing is very precise and that there are no real long shots. Welles actually worked one year in three editing rooms seven days a week to complete this movie. It is easy to believe this obsession from the master because the trick plays very well and the film is entertaining, filled with material that will take you on another level and it stands out as one of the most important films of Welles career. Given the right means he could have reinvented himself just like a Jean-Luc Godard and develop his own non- genre. On a personal level, Welles was a mythomaniac and in interviews he often misled his past, his relationships, and his family. He forged an image of himself and even the people who were close to him knew that he liked to maintain this façade. F for Fake is then, a very autobiographical document that is not speaking directly of its subject but like any well gifted storyteller it broads around facts and present it in a riveting manner.
With time and thinking I would rank this film along Welles’ other masterpieces and not being as game changing as Citizen Kane, or stunning as The Magnificent Ambersons, F for Fake stands alone in its unique spot of great films.
Being the ultimate film by Orson Welles on the list of 1000 Greatest Films, I feel like this completion feels great but also I feel a little sad that I don’t have any more films from this great director. It is somewhat fulfilling to catch a director’s whole corpus and be able to put it in the perspective of its entire career. There are very few directors that I truly admire that I can say I have seen all the films. Just like Andrew Sarris, I think that Welles is a Pantheon Director and he deserves his place amongst the great gods of Cinema.