Cast & Crew
The subject of fakery is examined in this documentary. The film features footage from an unfinished documentary about the infamous forger Elmyr de Hory, who scandalized the art world and fooled collectors and experts with his skillful copies of famous paintings. This footage is manipulated and combined with staged scenes to advance the theory that there is a close relationship between art and lying, and to expose the part that deception plays in the filmmaking process itself. The director also uses examples from his career to illustrate his point.
Andres Vicente Gomez
F for Fake
In the summer of 1968, Spain sent the police to arrest an aristocratic, foppish Hungarian living in a villa on the island of Ibiza. His name was Elmyr de Hory, or at least that was his latest alias. His criminal act was painting art works of great beauty. Normally that wouldn't be a crime but he was in the habit of painting his art in the style of the great masters, forging their signatures onto the paintings, and selling them as newly discovered "masterpieces." Art experts had validated his forgeries as authentic and, since de Hory wasn't talking, there was no telling how many museums had forged Matisses, Picassos and others on their walls.
De Hory spent a couple of months in jail and was exiled for a year. By the time he returned to Ibiza he had gained the attention of two other artists, French filmmaker François Reichenbach and an American author who lived on Ibiza, Clifford Irving. Reichenbach began shooting film for a documentary on de Hory while Irving interviewed him. It was Irving who got his work out first as a book called Fake! in 1969. As subsequent events showed, Irving may have learned a bit too much from his subject.
Meanwhile the great director Orson Welles was in Europe trying to get more money from European and Iranian backers for his never-to-be-completed feature The Other Side of the Wind (Gary Graver, one of Welles's cinematographers on F for Fake, is currently planning on completing the film). His bank account way overdrawn after the I.R.S. seized tax payments he'd owed since the late 1940's, Welles was desperate for cash. It was then that he met Reichenbach and saw his footage of interviews with de Hory. He was impressed and volunteered to take over the project of editing the footage into a television program for the BBC.
As Welles was editing the footage, the Clifford Irving story broke. Irving had received an advance of $765,000 from publishers McGraw-Hill for the purported autobiography of long-time recluse Howard Hughes. To prove he was in communication with this titan no one had seen publicly in years, Irving produced documents containing Hughes' signature. Handwriting experts declared the signatures authentic. Of course, just like de Hory's "masterpieces," the signatures were fakes. Hughes, or at least what was presumed to be the voice of Hughes, held a news conference over speakerphone to deny ever speaking to Irving. The phony autobiography became a gigantic media scandal with Time Magazine even using a de Hory portrait of Irving on their cover.
Since Reichenbach had also interviewed Irving in his material on de Hory, Welles knew he was making a program that was sure to attract attention. He talked Reichenbach into elevating the TV show into a feature with additional material to be shot under Welles' direction. The result took over a year to edit, although from the resulting film it is obvious that the time was needed. F for Fake is still one of the most daringly edited movies of its time. Unfortunately, by the time it reached theaters in 1976, the scandal was long over and American critics were put off by Welles' play of truth and lies. Or was it art experts in the press standing in defense of their brethren? In any case it was dismissed as a minor film in Welles's later period.
Now, however, F for Fake stands as Welles' last masterpiece, a playful movie essay on the questions that post-modernists were just then beginning to ask. Where does art gain its meaning? Who is the "author" of a work of art and why is that important to the value of art? Years after his death the true worth of this last major work of Orson Welles has finally been recognized, even by art critics.
Fans of F for Fake will be interested to know that the Criterion Collection is releasing a new, restored high-definition digital transfer of the film on DVD in April 2005. The extra features will include not only the famous 2000 "60 Minutes" interview between Mike Wallace and Clifford Irving where the author reveals the hoax but also audio recordings of the Howard Hughes press conference, audio commentaries by Oja Kodar and Gary Graver, a 1992 Norwegian Film Institute documentary on art forger Elmyr de Hory and a feature-length investigation of Welles's unfinished projects.
Director: Orson Welles
Writers: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
Producer: Francois Reichenbach
Cinematographers: Christian Odasso, Gary Graver
Editors: Marie-Sophie Dubus, Dominique Engerer
Music: Michel Legrand
Cast: Orson Welles (himself), Oja Kodar (herself), Elmyr de Hory (himself), Clifford Irving (himself), Francois Reichenbach (himself), Gary Graver (television newscaster).
by Brian Cady
F for Fake
F for Fake on DVD
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
F for Fake on DVD
Released in United States 1973
Released in United States 1974
Released in United States 1975
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States April 1981
Released in United States 1974 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition March 28 ¿ April 9, 1974)
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at Los Angeles Filmex March 1975.)
Released in United States 1973 (Shown in Paris under the title "?" in 1973.)
Released in United States 1973
Released in United States 1975 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 28 & October 2, 1975.)
Shown at New York Film Festival September 28 & October 2, 1975.
Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FilmEssay: The Best of Filmex) April 2-23, 1981.)