Film: F for Fake

Ladies and gentleman, by way of introduction, this is a film about trickery, fraud, about lies. Tell it by the fireside or in a marketplace or in a movie, almost any story is almost certainly some kind of lie. But not this time. This is a promise. For the next hour, everything you hear from us is really true and based on solid fact.

The last major film written, directed and featuring legendary director Orson Welles. Made in 1974, it is essentially a fast-paced rumination on truth, fakery and expertise, particularly with regards to authorship and authenticity within art.

The movie is framed around a biography-stroke-examination of Elmyr de Hory, a professional art forger who proudly boasted that he had sold thousands of paintings to galleries all around the world, with every expert who had examined them convinced they were the genuine article. He was the subject of a biography by Clifford Irving... who, during filming, was discovered to himself be a fraud, having published a biography of notoriously reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes that was based entirely on forgeries and faked evidence. Naturally, Welles couldn't resist putting that in, which gradually leads to Welles musing on his own tendency towards being a faker over his career. And this all begins to bleed into the movie itself, until it's not sure what's real and what's not... and whether, ultimately, that even matters.

The fast-paced editing techniques used by Welles in the film have been credited with influencing, among other things, the "MTV" style that premiered in the 1980s.

Real Life had a Downer Ending, by the way: de Hory killed himself in 1976 when told that he'd soon be extradited to France to face trial for forgery.

F for Fake provides examples of:

  • Answer Cut: A frenetic and tense zigzagging. Welles flits back and forth between de Hory and Irving, starting with de Hory making an astounding claim, followed by speechless filler from each men, back and forth, culminating in Irving flatly denying the claim. The effect is to appear as a tense moment between the two men, with de Hory sitting deadpan and Irving sitting dumbfounded in response, when in fact the clips used were from two completely different and unrelated filmings of each men.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: At one point, Welles reflects on how, in his first professional role, he walked into a theatre in Dublin (where he'd simply happened to end up having run out of money while touring Europe), claimed to be a famous American stage star, and demanded a role in their latest production. And got it.
  • Brick Joke: The page quote. Towards the end of the movie, Welles points out that the hour's long been over and his contract with the audience as well; "for the last seventeen minutes I've been lying my head off."
  • Creator Thumbprint: As well as tying into the movie's themes about truth-as-illusion, the magic tricks performed by Welles for the boys at the beginning of the movie reflect the director's own love of magic tricks.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Welles somehow manages to combine this with Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. And it is glorious.
  • Death of the Author: Welles reflects on this in-universe, suggesting that maybe authenticity isn't important to art:
    Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash - the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life: we're going to die. "Be of good heart," cry the dead artists out of the living past. "Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing." Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much.
  • Dirty Old Man: Picasso, according to Welles. However...
  • Distracted by the Sexy / Male Gaze: One scene is a montage of men gawking at Oja Kodar as she walks down the street in a short skirt.
  • Documentary: ... Sort of.
  • Exact Words: Read Orson's line above again.
  • Fanservice: Several layers; the opening credits run over footage of Oya Kodar, Welles' girlfriend and the co-writer of the movie, being the subject of "the fine outdoor sport of girl-watching", with the numerous men glancing at her as she passes them captured on concealed cameras. This ties into the theme of trickery and reality (the men don't know they're being observed, so their reactions are genuine). It is also a good reason to have footage of Welles' rather attractive girlfriend walking around in a figure-enhancing dress practically designed to best display her legs and rear end.
  • Genre Shift: The film actually began as a straight documentary about Elmyr de Hory. Then the footage was given to Orson Welles, who added his own material and made something much, much weirder.
  • High-Class Glass: de Hory breaks one out from time to time. Most notable in the scene where de Hory is using a High Class Glass while someone else explains in voiceover that de Hory is not from a noble family, as he claimed, but was from the lower middle class.
  • Narrator
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Invoked and lampshaded; as noted above, when it was revealed during filming that Clifford Irving, de Hory's biographer, was himself a faker, this was too good not to put in.
  • The Reveal: See Brick Joke.
  • Spiritual Successor: Exit Through the Gift Shop another documentary assembled largely from stock/found footage examining the nature of art and authenticity, with a Deadpan Snarker director.
  • Take That, Critics!: Invoked; a central theme of the movie is questioning what, exactly, the point of art criticism even is if the art critics can't even tell a genuine article from a forgery. Needless to say, de Hory, Irving and Welles have some pretty snarky things to say about critics and 'experts'.

Alternative Title(s):

F For Fake