Documentary Review: F for Fake (1973)

Also known as: Hoax (original script title), ?, Fakes, Fakes!!, About Fakes (working titles), Truth and Lies (alternative title), Fraude (Spain)
Release Date: September, 1973 (Spain – San Sebastián Film Festival)
Directed by: Orson Welles, François Reichenbach, Gary Graver, Oja Kodar
Written by: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
Music by: Michel Legrand
Cast: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, Edith Irving, Francois Reichenbach

Les Films de l’Astrophore, SACI, Janus Film und Fernsehen, 89 Minutes

Review:

“What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I’m afraid the pompous word for that is “art”.” – Orson Welles

People have debated for quite some time whether this is a documentary or itself a forgery. After seeing it, I think it’s a little bit of both while also just being a really cool art piece that Orson Welles left us with to cap off his filmmaking career.

The film examines two notable forgers. One man makes fake Picasso paintings, the other wrote a fraudulent biography about Howard Hughes.

I loved the opening sequence of this scene, which set the stage for the film’s story and tone, as Welles did magic tricks for children while describing how magicians were actually actors.

It’s actually kind of hard to describe what the film is, though. While there seems to be some truth that this is based on, the movie begins to take some creative and narrative liberties, as it takes the viewer down a strange, jovial and entertaining rabbit hole. Before you realize what’s happening, you’re lost in this deep well of Welles’ creativity.

Some describe this as a film essay but it’s definitely a real work of art and it displays how “outside the box” Welles’ thinking and creativity were.

What really grabbed me with this film was the style of editing. Welles always did things before the rest of his contemporaries caught on (or stole from him) and this movie is no different. He has these stylish, quick edits that move the narrative along pretty quickly and with that, make this a much more energetic documentary than what was the standard in the early 1970s.

I also love his style of narration and how he acts out scenes the way he does as a presenter. Welles was never short on charisma and charm and despite his older age, he hasn’t lost it. Frankly, I could watch the guy talk about anything for hours and he’d still make it entertaining even if the subject matter wasn’t very interesting.

F for Fake is an unusual but really original film. It makes you ponder its legitimacy but that’s also the point. Welles was a clever guy and himself a true magician of his preferred art form. In the end, does the legitimacy even matter, as long as you were entertained?

I guess that’s a question for modern times, as so many people take everything at face value, verbatim, with no real desire to look for the actual truth. But then again, Welles was always well ahead of his time. 

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Orson Welles’ other pictures.