F For Fake (Orson Welles, 1973)

Orson Welles film F For Fake (also known as Fake or simply “?”) is a brilliantly bizarre piece of cinema that shows off the art of deception in storytelling. The purpose of the film isn’t to reveal a scandal, despite its superficial attempts to make the viewer think it’s a straightforward documentary. Rather, the ultimate goal is to tie us up in knots, frustrate us and lead us down as many blind alleys as possible in a relatively short running time (85 minutes for this version). In this respect the film is a glowing success and if you keep this in mind the whole thing is absolutely hilarious.

The purported premise of the film involves Welles revealing a huge visual art scandal involving professional forgery at the hands of Elmyr de Hory. A second man, hoax-biographer, reveals all in the role of hoax-biographer Clifford Irving, whilst Oja Kodar also appears in a few critical scenes.

The story it creates is almost believable but for the handful of telltale signs of fakery. The deliberate continuity errors throughout (see “practioners” and Don Amiche); the overuse of the phrases like “of course our story really starts with…”; the ridiculous conversational tone Welles uses when engaging the viewer (or disengaging them by ordering dinner halfway through a scene); swapping out Oja Kodar with her sister for one scene for no reason. There’s a lot going on besides this and I felt it was designed to deliberately deceive. I was on board. I got it. That it succeeds in this is indicative that the film was a huge success, though I’m fairly confident if I wasn’t aware it was itself a hoax I might have found the whole thing a little self-indulgent.

F For Fake is available on Masters of Cinema DVD only, but there are no plans to release it on Blu-Ray so you may as well go for that version.

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