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F for Fake

F for Fake(1973)

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F for Fake Director Orson Welles examines... MORE > $39.95 Regularly $39.95 Buy Now

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As close to a pure cinematic sleight of hand as anyone could achieve, Orson Welles' F for Fake posits itself as a documentary about fakery in its various guises. Of course, what this really means is another Welles examination of that fond film school subject, illusion vs. reality, which the director explored since he first sprang to infamy with his panic-inducing broadcast of "War of the Worlds." This time the layered narratives which propelled Citizen Kane and many of his subsequent films are completely turned inside out, as Welles himself appears as a host offering a melange of interweaving threads - some admittedly phony, other posing as real.

Purportedly begun as a straight TV documentary about Elmyr de Hory, an accomplished art forger (though even this aspect is far from realistically presented), Welles' film documents the creation of "fake" art along with the participation of his con artist biographer, Clifford Irving. However, the interjections of Welles narration and seemingly random tidbits like actor cameos (including a bearded Laurence Harvey) and a slinky lovely (co-writer Oja Kodar) under the gaze of lecherous men eventually culminate into something even stranger and more wondrous. Experimental yet amusing in the extreme, this film isn't for the easily frustrated but should delight anyone willing to watch a magic act for more than five minutes.

Fortunately Welles also offers enough superficial pizzazz to keep the senses reeling, including elaborate editing that puts most music videos to shame and a dazzling Michel Legrand score that's still screaming for a full soundtrack release. 1970s viewers might have been left scratching their heads, but it's astonishing how much of the film's approach has been appropriated in subsequent films ranging from The Stunt Man to the works of filmmakers like Peter Greenaway and Krzysztof Kieslowski, whose layering of fake histories upon dubious sources to illuminate the nature of art can be traced right back to Welles.

Trying to unweave the numerous strands of Welles' final completed feature, Criterion's deservedly elaborate special edition features a glossy new anamorphic transfer that finally does justice to the film's colorful visual scheme. Kodar appears for a commentary track with director of photographer Gary Graver (who was moonlighting in soft porn at the time and went on to dabble in every conceivable exploitation genre). Not surprisingly, Peter Bogdanovich (who pops up, sort of, in the feature itself) turns in a video introduction as well, and the first disc is rounded out with the outrageous 9-minute original trailer prepared by Welles (which, not surprisingly, was rejected by the distributor). The really juicy extras lie on disc two - and unlike the main feature, most of them appear to be on the level. The feature-length 1995 documentary, "Orson Welles: One-Man Band," takes an extensive look at the numerous incomplete projects littering his directorial career, while de Hory goes under the microscope for "Almost True: The Noble Art of Forgery," a one-hour 1997 study of his fascinating life of "crime." Irving turns up for an equally amusing 60 Minutes interview documenting his well-publicized phony Howard Hughes autobiography, plus footage from the press conference revealing the book's fabricated origins. The whole tricky thing is packaged lovingly with a Jonathan Rosenbaum essay chronicling the film's strange genesis and offering a handy reading of Welles' intentions in creating something so deliberately designed to confound and provoke its audience.

For more information about F for Fake, visit the Criterion Collection. To order F for Fake, go to TCM Shopping.

by Nathaniel Thompson