Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving
Have I Seen it Before: A few times.
Did I Like It: And I like it more each and every time.
F For Fake is the final finished film released during the legendary director’s lifetime. And, yet, to call it a complete film is misleading. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster. Is it a straight-ahead documentary about infamous art forger de Hory? Yes. But, oddly enough, that film was actually shot by François Reichenbach*, with Welles hired to edit the finished product. This is a common theme for the later parts of his career.
Not content to simply rest on that interesting subject, is this also an essay on Welles’ notions of fakery in the larger sense? Also, yes. He saw the opportunity when de Hory’s biographer—Irving—became embroiled in an even larger fakery scandal involving a counterfeit ghost-written autobiography of Howard Hughes, and widened his lens. Throughly in the spirit of things, he concots a story about the mysterious Oja Kodar’s swindle of an irate Pablo Picasso that—spoilers—turns out to be a complete fabrication on the part of Welles himself. This might have been a more thorough surprise for this reviewer if I wasn’t pointedly aware that Kodar had been Welles’ traveling companion and mistress during the last years of his life. This is the trouble with having written two books and counting about Welles, so I’m imagining the reveal has a lost more mirth for the general audience both at large and at the time.
Is it also the closest thing we’re ever going to get to an auto-documentary? Still yes, Welles introspects just enough to analyze his own epic, Martian-related role in the annals of fakery. There’s just enough of the melancholy and futility Welles was famed to have in his last decades to feel honest, but not so much that it feels as if it is self-indulgent.
And that’s where the film’s genius fully gels. Yes, it is cobbled together from disparate parts, but that actually gives the proceedings a lively pace that other documentaries would have been unable to imagine. It’s almost like what I would imagine it to be like if you had a long conversation with Welles over a meal on a day when he was in a better than average mood. That’s a fascinating vibe for a disorganized film to capture. It may, in fact, be my favorite film Welles ever directed.
You read that right.
*For the record, a great super villain name if ever I’ve heard one.