Sog.: Orson Welles. Scen.: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar. F.: François Reichenbach. M.: Marie-Sophie Dubus, Dominique Engerer, Orson Welles. Mus.: Michel Legrand. Int.: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Clifford Irving, Elmyr de Hory, Joseph Cotten, François Reichenbach, Richard Wilson, Paul Stewart, Alexander Welles, Gary Graver, Peter Bogdanovich. Prod.: Dominique Antoine, Richard Drewett, François Reichenbach per Les Films de l’Astrophore, SACI, Janus Film und Fernsehen. DCP. Col
The first of Orson Welles’s two essay films to be completed and released during his lifetime (the lesser-known 1979 Filming ‘Othello’ was the second), this breezy, low-budget montage – put together from discarded documentary footage by François Reichenbach as well as new material filmed by Welles – forms a kind of dialectic with Welles’s never-completed It’s All True. As Welles himself implied, an equally accurate title for this playful cat-and-mouse game might have been It’s All Lies.
The main subjects here are art forger Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, Howard Hughes, Pablo Picasso, and Welles himself; and the name of the game is the practice and meaning of deception. Some commentators have speculated that this film was Welles’s indirect reply to Pauline Kael’s subsequently disproven contention that he didn’t write a word of the Citizen Kane script; his sly commentary here – seconded by some of the trickiest editing anywhere – implies that authorship is a pretty dubious notion anyway, a function of the even more dubious art market. For a filmmaker who studiously avoided repeating himself and sought always to remain a few steps ahead of his audience’s expectations, thereby rejecting any obvious ways of commodifying his status as an auteur, Welles arguably found a way in F for Fake to contextualize large portions of his career while undermining many cherished beliefs about authorship and the means by which “experts,” “God’s own gift to the fakers,” validate such notions.
The key to Welles’s fakery here, as it is throughout his work, is his audience’s imagination and the active collaboration it performs – most often unknowingly – with his own designs, the kind of unconscious or semiconscious complicity that magicians and actors both rely on. As Finnegans Wake was for Joyce, F for Fake was for Welles a playful repository of public history intertwined with private in-jokes as well as duplicitous meanings, an elaborate blend of sense and nonsense that carries us along regardless of what’s actually being said.
Restored in 4K in 2021 by La Cinémathèque française, in collaboration with Les Films de l’Astrophore, Documentaire sur grand écran, Cinémathèque suisse and l’Institut audiovisuel de Monaco, at Hiventy e L.E. Diapason laboratories from original negative and magnetic sound 35mm print.
Restoration realized with the support of Hiventy and Fondation d’entreprise Neuflize OBC