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July 13, 2009 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Why Haven’t You Seen This Yet?


“This is a promise. During the next hour, everything you hear from us is true, and based on solid fact.

In a documentary that opens with legendary auteur Orson Welles performing a series of magic tricks on a platform at a train station, it seems apt that such a disclaimer as the one above should be made. As an audience, we’ve become complacent—everything we see in documentaries and on the news and even in reality TV has become ‘fact’ for us, and we refuse to question them at all. We’re like the kids watching Orson change a key into a coin—we’re passive viewers, accepting everything and anything disguised as ‘truth’. And in this generation, when even staged tripe like The Hills and The Real Orange County can be passed off as reality, it is more important than ever that we understand the true nature of, well, the truth.

F For Fake was originally filmed as a television documentary on the world’s greatest art forger, Elmyr de Hory, by French director Francois Reichenbach. Reichenbach later offered all of his footage to Welles, and in the period of time Welles re-shot and re-edited the footage so as to create a new documentary, something came to light. Clifford Irving, de Hory’s biographer, had been working on a biography about reclusive and eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, and he’d received much attention (and money) in the process; however, the Hughes biography was a fake, and Irving’s downfall was swift and made world headlines.

As such, the film tells several stories—not just that of de Hory, but also those of Irving, Hughes, Welles himself, and Welles’ ‘companion’, Oja Kodar. Each of these surprisingly interesting threads are masterfully intertwined with musings on the nature of art, the truth, fakery, ownership and cinema, offering a profound insight into these subjects and these people.

The film’s engaging tales are impeccably complemented by the cinematography and editing. While most of the film is shot in fairly typical documentary style, scenes such as the famous Chartres monologue and the sequence detailing Kodar’s relationship with one Pablo Picasso are aesthetically striking and breathtaking to behold. But the thing that really brings the film to life is the editing—often heralded as a precursor to the modern ‘MTV’ editing style, Welles’ editing is playful, kinetic, and breathes life into sequences that could’ve gone stagnant in any conventional editor’s hands.

F For Fake is the kind of film any lover of cinema should see. Filled with engrossing stories and interesting discussions on the nature of art and truth, and imbued with an infectious sense of fun, F For Fake is possibly the greatest documentary ever made. And it has one of the greatest endings ever put to film, if that sells it any more.

F for Fake (1974)
Directed and written by Orson Welles


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