F is For Fake: Orson Welles On-Top, Again

F is For Fake: Orson Welles On-Top, Again

The last years of Orson Welles’ life weren’t the glimmering exemplar of an artist crafting his finest and best received work. The director – he also worked in theatre, radio and the fine arts for a time, a very short time – basically toppled from favor during the fifties after a series of well wrought, but not commercially advantageous, filmic works. Then he got fat.

It wasn’t ever the man’s girth precluding him from success. Instead, the fact that as time wore on and Welles realized he wasn’t going to be Brando – or a Brando with an acumen for directing – he landed upon a series of increasingly obtuse projects. Shakespeare, while omni-good source material, isn’t most times going to result in a box office success.

Years became decades and Europe was home. Welles returned to the States sporadically before eventually moving in with Peter Bogdanovich, but his films – and there were a few in these years – didn’t receive too much widespread distribution. Of course, it’d be easy to figure that the overarching reason for success eluding Welles was the man’s work being beyond a vast many potential viewers. Whatever the case was, there were a few efforts from the late seventies which deserve more attention then they’ve gotten over time.

Why the Criterion Collection decided to release a cut of Welles’ 1975 F is For Fake is a bit confusing. It might have to do with the fact that pretty much everyone in the world is – or should be – fascinated by how much money moves in and out of the art market. But let’s just think that F has found a new audience because it’s a good film. Well, most of it.

Welles, all bearded and fat greets viewers at the film’s beginning and gets into the similarities between filmmaker and magician. He’s not wrong, both work in deceiving people. And that really allows for entrance into the rest of the film detailing the synergistic relationship between Elmyr de Hory and a writer who sussed out the guys biography.

de Hory, then and now presumably, counts as one of history’s greatest art forgers. Guessing from the film, it appears that more than a few museums around the globe have his worked posted on gallery walls with some Master’s name affixed to the thing. The weird thing is that de Hory’s biographer was apparently a forger as well and wrote a questionable biography on Howard Hughes.

So, Welles – amidst jump cuts and a few nods to Dziga Vertoz – tells viewers the truth for an hour, lies for twenty minutes, but serves as field guide to a world as concerned with money and outward appearances as it is with the truth.