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F for Fake: Orson Will Perpetrate No Crime Before its Time

May 6, 2010

a faker but a real one

Orson Welles’ F for Fake is an accidental documentary very much concerned with getting to the truth of fakery – albeit in an amusing and lighthearted manner. Thanks to scandals such as the runaway Prius and the balloon boy hoax, the Welles’ film feels more contemporary than it might have during its original release.

The “story” centers around two famed fakers: art forger Elmyr de Hory and his biographer turned famous faker, Clifford Irving. In the middle of this film Irving finds himself sharing the hot seat with his subject, in some unintentionally hilarious and uncomfortable scenes when its discovered his biography of Howard Hughes is a hoax.

In the 2007 film The Hoax Richard Gere gives an over the top performance as Irving, and it’s worth a view in order to fill in all the details regarding the hoax absent from Welles’ film. It also stars Marcia Gay Harden and – wait for it – ALFRED “Motoring” MOLINA. *firecracker*

Bright Lights Film’s Robert Castle states:

Through serendipity (that the Irving biography of Hughes should collapse in the midst of the filming of F for Fake) and artfulness, Welles creates another succession of mirrored reflections that purposefully blur the real and the fake until we can no longer see which is which.

The film as it was originally intended did indeed collapsed once the fraud was revealed, but that’s only the beginning of the story. Welles says rather cheekily, “I boarded a plane, grew another beard and made another movie.” and finally when the dust settled decided he ought to salvage the mess into an examination of all these interested parties and, of course, his own relationship to fakery!

While F for Fake is an acquired taste. but definitely worth watching. Yes, there is loads of masturbatory artist chow chow, but so what. It’s Welles! It’s Clifford Irving and that lovable scamp Elmyr. The Criterion edition looks fantastic and well it only has a 87 minute running time. But within those 87 minutes there are cross country crime sprees, Irving and his wife chow chowing about what a delightful faker de Hory is, a Picasso swindle, a sketchy rent boy and more Modigliani deconstruction than was probably necessary. Moreover, it’s a lot of freaking fun. Seriously, I always enjoy watching this film. And oddly enough, despite being an acquired taste I find it to be Welles’ most accessible film. I should note I am much more a fan of the Orson Welles persona than his actual work – save those wine commercials and his cameo in The Muppet Show

Plus there is a wonderful vignette featuring Welles’ partner both in art and love – the fabulous actress, screenwriter and muse Oja Kodar.

Yesterday was Welles’ birthday; though given what we know of him and his love a great hoax, are we really actually sure?

F for Fake is available on Netflix Instant View

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    May 7, 2010 1:53 am

    I *LOVE* this movie and haven’t seen references to it anywhere on the internet in about 10 years. My favorite parts are the pretentious art scene hoo ha and gorgeous, decadent Ibiza. By the way, I keep seeing you saying “chow chow” which is so hilarious and perfect, and I wonder where it comes from or if you made it up.

    One of my pleasures in life is reading or viewing a spot-on fabrication of an existing famous person or historical figure’s everyday behavior in a work of fiction. Have you read the novel Flicker by Theodore Roszak? There is a wonderful dinner party scene where the hero’s female mentor in the ways of film (and of course, sex) has parted ways from him and happens to have become Close Personal Friends with Orson Welles. Welles wears a white caftan and holds court for about 5 minutes before wandering off or passing out or something — I have to read it again now.

    Anyway, I love this spot and got here by way of your actual Snarky’s Machine blog, which I discovered this week by way of Shakesville or possibly Tiger Beatdown (I read Way Too Many Blogs). Yay! Also, thank you for posting your song selections of choice for the season, including “Lovely Day” which always rules and kind of chokes me up. I was born in DC in the 1970s, and there are songs that just give me that sweet pain of nostalgia that tastes like hot asphalt and leaded gasoline bus fumes — kind of sugary and syrupy and dirty but oddly register as clean and wholesome. Like summer in a city.

  2. May 7, 2010 2:10 am

    Omigod, Angelina! You’re, like, the only person I know who’s seen that movie. I turn into an art house geek whenever I try to talk about it, because my favorite element is the editing. The way Welles takes so many different sources and weaves them together into a smooth, solid narrative. He slices and dices these conversations, sometimes breaking individual sentences into pieces… and it all fits together! When I try to describe it to somebody, they think it’s something they wouldn’t be able to get into. But I agree with you that it’s totally accessible. Not to mention really thought-provoking, about the nature of what’s real, what gives work its value, the power of names, the role of experts, and a ton of other stuff.

    When I got the Criterion DVD, I made the mistake of watching it for the first time with Peter Bogdonavich’s introduction, where he gives away the big twist surprise. I know I would have believed it, otherwise. Maybe there should have been a warning.

    And Oja Kodar. Damn, does she own a lot of sexy outfits, or what?

  3. May 7, 2010 8:36 am

    @Citizen Taqueau, for the source of chow-chow and other Snarkyisms, check out Snarky’s Says, Vol. 1

    I love how unapologetically self-indulgent he is, and such a fabulous storyteller. And his camp appearances (from the first Casino Royale through the Muppet Show) did such a good job of self-parody that nobody else could get much traction lampooning him.

  4. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    May 7, 2010 9:16 am

    Redlami, thank you!

  5. evmaroon permalink
    May 7, 2010 10:42 am

    I love this movie, and I totally had forgotten I’d watched it! And it reminded me of another Welles docukindofmentary on the predictions of Nostradamus that had me practically crapping my pants in worry about a World War III started by some crazy Arabs, and the depiction of said Arabs was so stereotypical Ed Said rolls over in his grave every time someone plays the movie. Now I need to go back and find that film and this one and relive the experience.

  6. May 7, 2010 3:51 pm

    Thanks for this, Snarkster. I actually enjoyed the film a lot, and it inspired a bunch of shitty books about “fakes” in film which really do involve a lot more artsy fartsy masturbatory chow chow… but you know, by some geeky film dudes instead of Orson. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    I tend to think of Wells as a prankster in general. He was always flirting with what people EXPECT and then turning it on them. Now, that’s not fraud, it’s smart, and sometimes it’s art! Most people can’t pull it off (I certainly couldn’t).

  7. May 7, 2010 5:22 pm

    This has actually been in my Instant Queue for a while, I guess I should watch it this weekend!

  8. May 8, 2010 6:27 am

    F for Fatass! I love me a BIG man.

  9. Kia permalink
    May 8, 2010 7:53 am

    As a Welles fan, I don’t know why I’ve never seen this film, thanks for the reminder that I’ve been remiss.

    As someone first introduced to Welles via the muppets and wine commercials, I was a little skeptical when my grandfather would insist that I was watching a “creative powerhouse”. And yes, my grandfather speaks like a press release when he really, really likes something.

  10. May 9, 2010 8:07 pm

    As someone first introduced to Welles via the muppets and wine commercials, I was a little skeptical when my grandfather would insist that I was watching a “creative powerhouse”. And yes, my grandfather speaks like a press release when he really, really likes something.

    “creative powerhouse” is totally press release copy and hilarious.

  11. May 10, 2010 2:34 am

    Creative powerhouse? Sort of. There’s so much hype surrounding Welles that I avoided his work for a long time because of it. I don’t like hype. But the more I learned about film history and how films are made, the more I realized I had to give him a try. And now, when I’m in full-on art house mode, I can gush about the tracking shot in “Touch of Evil”, or the camera angles in “The Trial”, or the recursive flashbacks in “Mr. Arkadin”, or… just about anything in “Citizen Kane”. The dude was brilliant.

    But he also had a nasty tendency to waste his creative powers. His stubbornness, his eagerness to make enemies, his tendency to start projects he couldn’t finish, his belief he could overcome any obstacle through sheer genius… he caused so many problems for himself. It’s true he had to face a lot of undeserved problems on top of that. But whenever I watch a great Orson Welles film, or even lesser ones like “The Stranger”, I can’t help wondering how many others we might be able to enjoy if he had just handled his career differently.

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