‘F for Fake’ (1973) by Orson Welles

Director: Orson Welles, Gary Graver (uncredited), Oja Kodar (uncredited), Francois Reichenbach (uncredited)

Cinematography: Francois Reichenbach

Writers: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar

Stars: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving

Rating: 94

F for Fake, a film about fakery and fraud.

Told through the mouthpiece of one of the great forgers of our time, the indomitable Orson Welles, it’s a story that understands its own vision. A film that was not only trying to inform about the great elmyr, or the subtle yet deceptive Cliff Irving: the author of the elmyr book. F for Fake is a masterpiece of sight, sound, and a complete sham.

Every aspect of Welles’s faux-documentary film, that reads as more of an essay, about the nature of fakery that brings into question exactly that, the nature of the very narrative framework this film is constructed on. In fact, Welles straight up reveals that the middle portion of the film will be all truth, hiding nothing from the audience, while also revealing that the last half hour would be riddled with fake information, indecipherable from the facts. F for Fake is a love poem to these forgers of art and mind, that not only created an industry surrounded by falsehoods but helps us better understand art and life. Learning in the utmost entertaining fashion, how these fakes are more than some cheap frauds, that they themselves create art.

As for the execution of this film, it’s uncanny and unmatched. F for Fake is so appropriately edited and shot. It flows at a blinding pace that works to disorient. The editing especially showed the thin line between real, fake, and what we perceive as real or fake. The only time the film slows down is whenever Welles’ tender, ambiguous tone plays through the speakers we get heavy introspection and general analysis that matches so perfectly with what’s taking place on the screen. It’s Wellsian in every regard and his charm is what makes this experience so special.

The Welles Effect

  • Orson Welles general presence in a scene or on the radio or basically any room that man occupied during his life put him at the center. His boastful yet sincere style was a signature of Welles and bleeds heavily into his directing style. He approached his art with the same easiness and bravado as he did throughout his life

  • His part in this film, covering subjects he not only relates to on a personal level but ultimately finds interesting and unique makes it so much more enjoyable. Hearing the information fed through Welles’s brilliant narration, coupled with the magic of cinematography and the editing room, creates this wonderful tone in the film.
  • I mean, look at this man. He’s everything and nothing. Even his wardrobe is screaming creativity and putting on a show itself. Welles is able to present anything in such an intriguing light

The Nature of Fake

  • While the sheer enjoyment of these humans on screen, as in the eccentric Elmyr having a lovely discussion with Welles over dinner or Irving’s odd dynamic with Elmyr, this film offers quite a bit of entertainment before jumping deeper into the themes of this film
  • As in the nature of forgery, and the value we put on personal, true pieces of art and how it’s a facade for the great art forgers of the world, like an Elmyr.
  • The most fascinating point brought up, outside of whether or not forging a painting is considered real art, is the value we as a society put into experts. As the film asks, without experts are there really any fakes? And this is explored throughout the film, constantly questioning the validity of experts.

  • Lastly, back to the idea of a personal vision and how this relates to one’s true art. It’s a film that explains ones on personal truth, as in the case of Elmyr, who as Irving cites, got his creativity beaten out of him at a young age turning his talents towards faking.

The Oja Effect, Authorship and Validity

  • The scene begins as a gorgeous woman in a short dress walks down a busy square. Cut to, men turning their heads as she passes.

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  • It’s the worlds most effective (and stylistically shot) candid camera, using Oja as bait. This leads to the idea that if you believe it to be real, then it’s real, as this relates to what Welles refers the people secretly photographed in this film as “actors.”
  • It bleeds into the famous lost 22 paintings of Picasso and how Oja Kodar and her art dealing father are responsible for this. It talks in great depth about authorship, and how important that is to the viewer.
  • The sensational aspect of F for Fake and the intrigue of the life these characters live is what makes this film such a masterful take on the subject of fakery.

Verdict

F for Fake is essentially Orson Welles last film. He wanted to expand this new form of video essay through the same use of his quirky and philosophical approach to this film. Throughout history, there’s nothing close to resembling the mastery and fined tuned filmmaking like in F for Fake.

It’s got such a distinct, laid-back style that’s never been explored quite like this one. And unfortunately, there will never ever be another Orson Welles. He brought the entire picture together and gave it his flair to elevate an already interesting story.

Lastly, the editing is truly masterful. It’s a messy combination of 16mm and 35mm film that’s perfectly cut together to make one cohesive experience. It never freezes and keeps bouncing from scene-to-scene so nonchalantly, as if we just returned from a short trip to the bathroom and are now seated excitedly around the dinner table listening to your old pal, Orson Welles, tell us a story about his Croatian friend Elmyr. It’s perfectly set up in every definition of the word.

It’s visual music.

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