Cinemalphabet: F is for F for Fake
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*
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.