Reality and artifice, truths and lies, the means and the ends — these are the poles traversed by Orson Welles in his landmark examination of the nature of authenticity and artistic essence: F for Fake. Described by Welles as “a new kind of film,”? F for Fake — a.k.a. Fake!, a.k.a. About Fakes, a.k.a. ? (“Question Mark”?) — is a prism of a movie, a kaleidoscope in which fiction, documentary, and the poetic essay interlock, fragment, and recombine to form one of the most entertaining and profound works in all of cinema.
How to describe a film so unlike any other ever made? In a nutshell… — F for Fake opens with a couple of magic tricks, segues as though by sleight-of-hand into the story of master art-forger Elmyr de Hory and his relationship with biographer Clifford Irving (a sequence ‘remixed’ by Welles with extant footage from François Reichenbach’s documentary work-in-progress, Elmyr), then hones in on Irving when word gets out that his purported biography of recluse-mogul Howard Hughes is a first-class hoax in its own right. Here the film erupts in all directions, as Welles contrasts the sprawl of ‘70s Hollywood with the halcyon Tinseltown that produced Citizen Kane; contemplates the continent that provided him with an artistic refuge some 800 years after the anonymous construction of the cathedral at Chartres; and, lastly, recounts a meeting between that most un-anonymous of artists — Pablo Picasso — and Welles’ companion Oja Kodar, which took place in her youth, and during which…… — The nutshell here clamps shut; the film itself, however, opens up onto infinite space.
Exhilarating, hilarious, and marvellously idiosyncratic, F for Fake comes to us from that late period of Orson Welles’ cinema which, although perhaps less widely known than his Hollywood years, nevertheless found one of the movies’ greatest masters at the top of his powers.