F FOR FAKE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
Director: Orson Welles
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: 88 Minutes
Release Date: October 21, 2014
to your old tricks, I see."
not? I'm a charlatan."
filmmaker is, first and foremost, an illusionist, and there were few as good at
cinematic sleight of hand as Orson Welles.
From his first feature Citizen Kane, where he created the idea of
the scope and glorious magnitude of Xanadu mostly with empty space and carefully
constructed pools of light and shadow to make the space seem more expansive,
Wells instinctively knew that the camera was quicker than the eye.
Instead of Jean-Luc Godard's statement that film was truth 24 times a
second, he probably would have subscribed to Brian De Palma's theory that film lies
24 times a second.
then, that his last completed film was both an examination of and an exercise in
fakery. F For Fake is not a
documentary in the traditional sense, but more of what Peter Bogdanovich calls a
"documentary essay". Welles
may begin his yarn by exploring two of the great forgers of the 20th century,
but he seems to amusingly discover a kinship with them between what they did and
what he does. The resulting movie
is ambitious and layered, with revelations born out of revelations...and yet, as
Welles reminds us, in the movies, we can never be too sure of truth.
Especially in a story about lies.
simplify: Elmyr (a user of various
last names) was the greatest art forger Europe had ever seen.
With a few strokes of a pencil or brush, he managed to pawn off canvases
that fooled most of the so-called "experts".
One museum, which Welles says he can't identify for legal reasons, had no
less than 22 of Elmyr's artworks on their walls, each proclaimed time and again
to be the real McCoy.
Clifford Irving to make a film about Elmyr's life and career.
Irving is interested in the idea of passing off fakes as the real thing,
and as it turns out, his curiosity was more than academic.
Soon Irving's name would eclipse Elmyr's as the greatest faker of all
when it turns out his biography of eccentric airplane legend Howard Hughes was a
fraud from top to bottom.
Welles stepped in to the project with a delightful conundrum on his hands.
But his mischievous charm makes us constantly wonder if he's being square
with his audience. We first glimpse
Welles at a train station, with some of his cast and crew around him, performing
some simple magic for a small child. As
he introduces his project, he promises slyly that for the next hour, what we see
will be true.
both Elmyr and Irving, Welles senses creative kindred spirits.
As we watch Elmyr work, we don't question that he's an extremely talented
artist, and Irving managed to fool the world with a great story that essentially
came from his imagination. Yet
Welles made (and some might say lost) his reputation on a film that took the
life of a real American newspaper tycoon and spun it into a fantasy of illusion
and trickery for the screen.
movie grows more fascinating as it goes along...like a big box with smaller and
smaller boxes inside, Welles proceeds with his material like a kid at
Christmas...or perhaps a better analogy would be the magician he purports to be
at the beginning. Nothing up his
sleeves? There's always something
up the sleeves, otherwise there would be no illusion.
of, for example, the beautiful co-star Oja Kodar we see briefly at the
beginning, walking through the streets as men ogle her?
Welles promises she will play an important role later, and she certainly
does. But she also played a pivotal
role at the beginning. That footage of her was from a short film she made that
Welles asked to incorporate into his own. Later,
there is a re-enactment of a tragic scene involving no less than the great Pablo
Picasso, where Welles and Kodar circle each other in a foggy street, each
repeating spoken lines from the story.
Orson Welles gained a reputation for his unique and influential sense of camera
work, he capped of his career with one of the best examples of film editing ever
put to celluloid. Using various
source materials and film stocks, Welles uses his cutting to constantly remind
us of the nature of illusion. Footage
of Elmyr and Irving, which looks like ordinary documentary stuff, becomes more
elusive as Orson shows it to us on a small flickering moviola.
The final stretch, in which new footage of Kodar is juxtaposed with still
photos of Picasso creates an illusion of voyeurism.
A little trickery in between to make the images appear through the slats
of a window blind adds to it. It's
a bit of chicanery that calls attention to itself, but with cutting and pasting,
Welles gleefully demonstrates how fragile the nature of reality is.
Yet with all that, he saved his greatest illusion for last.
For Fake is
unlike any movie I've ever seen, and it may be, as Welles himself put it,
"a new kind of movie" he left us with to cap off his unique career.
It's a film that requires attention and patience, and probably a second
viewing. I admit, I was a little
put-off by what I felt were eccentricities and indulgences my first time
through. But being that it was
Orson Welles, I decided to give it a second go.
It was a totally different experience.
What was cloudy became clear. This
time through the puppet show, I could see the strings...and it made me
appreciate the effect even more.
TRIVIA I: Like The White Album,
F For Fake is simply the title this movie has become known by.
In Welles' mind, his film had only a question mark for a title.
TRIVIA II: Joseph Cotten, Paul
Stewart and Lawrence Harvey appear briefly as themselves.
makes this a much easier call than it might have been, given the varied nature
of film stocks and ages of the multiple components of the film.
The hodgepodge effect serves the overall theme of reality versus
illusion, and this high definition transfer presents it all cleanly and with good
attention to detail. Sure, there
some grain here, some marks there, but to remove those would have been to spoil
the effect. This is one disc you
may use your pause button on frequently, just to examine the nature of Welles'
uncompressed mono audio track is perfectly workable, with dialogue and music beds sounding
clean and clear. Dynamic range is
minimal, but unessential, and I noticed no undue noise or hiss to interfere with
Criterion delivers again as only they could with an amazing extras package.
It starts with a
terrific commentary track featuring Oja Kodar and cinematographer Gary Graver,
who speak of Welles in both professional and personal terms.
There is a classy introduction by Peter Bogdanovich, and the somewhat
legendary but seldom seen 9 minute trailer Welles crafted from the film, which
included footage not in the final movie.
There is a superb 1995 documentary Orson
Welles: One Man Band. This
feature length extra is an exploration of Welles' unfinished works, filled with
lots of rare clips and footage. In
it, we learn that his reputation for not finishing projects wasn't entirely his
fault. One film, The Deep, was
nearly completed when its star Laurence Harvey died.
His version of The Merchant of Venice had actually wrapped, but
before Welles could edit it, the negatives were mysteriously stolen.
There are also clips that show his great sense of humor, including skits
where he portrayed Winston Churchill, and a rather amusing bit of self-parody
where English tailors snicker rudely at his rather bizarre measurements.
are also features on Welles' subjects, one feature length take on Elmyr and a 60
Minutes II interview with Clifford Irving about his faux Hughes biography.
Rounding out is the 1972 telephone press conference with Howard Hughes,
where he exposed Irving's fraud (an audio only feature).
Movies may be illusions, but Criterion's excellent treatment of them on Blu-ray remains an unwavering reality. This little seen final completed film from Orson Welles gets a red carpet treatment worthy of the great iconoclast. The film may not entertain all audiences, but serious students of cinema should not pass this one up.