F For Fake

F For Fake


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

It seems entirely fitting that Orson Welles' twisty and enjoyable film F For Fake should be getting a re-release in the week that Bart Layton's The Imposter also hits UK cinemas. Both deal with issues of unreliable narrators and layers of lies and fakery, although Welles' story of hoaxers and those who buy into their activities is, at least on the surface, altogether more jovially playful.

His springboard to charlatanism is documentary footage of Elmyr de Hory, a Hungarian painter-turned-art-forger who mastered the masters to such an extent that he earned a fortune creating works by them and selling them on, contending that even when he had admitted what he had done, that no art dealer would say which canvases were fake because they, in turn, were making a mint. Hory's story was documented in biography Fake, written by US journalist Clifford Irving. The writer, presumably highly impressed by Hory's success, would go on himself to pen a highly successful fake "authorised biography" of Howard Hughes (later fictionalised in 2006's The Hoax).

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Welles' film - a masterclass in editing - weaves in and out of these stories, while he also muses for the audience on the nature of the hoax, performing several magical 'illusions' and spinning a verbal trick or two along the way. Welles' contention seems to be that fakery begats fakery - a sort of Russian doll of mendacity - but his film also has a melancholic undernote regarding his own career, which, he asserts, all began with a lie about his own experience in the industry.

In between the cape twirling, sly winking and knowing nods, Welles conjures up a central debate - if you look at something and think it is a masterpiece, why is the fake less valuable/the faker not as talented as the original artist? Or to put it another way, if you authentically like something, does it matter if it isn't authentic? Like every good magic show, there's much more here than first meets the eye.

Or perhaps, I'm just making this up. Better decide for yourself.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2012
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Fraud, fakes and art.
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Director: Orson Welles

Writer: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar

Starring: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, François Reichenbach

Year: 1973

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France, Iran, West Germany


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