Monday, November 12, 2007

F For Fake

While I normally decide what movies to review before watching them, about fifteen minutes into this film I realized I just had to gush about it here. This was Orson Welles’ final real directorial work (he also directed documentaries on the making of his adaptations of Othello and The Trial, but this was his last proper film), and it shows, perhaps even more than any of his other films, just how overflowing with creativity he was.

I have this listed as a documentary, simply because that’s the closest real genre I can clumsily attach this to, but it doesn’t really fit as one. If anything, it’s more a celebration of fakery and charlatans the world over (of which Welles openly professes himself as one). He focuses his efforts primarily on two of the most famous of the 20th century, art forger Elmyr de Hory, and Hory’s biographer Clifford Irving, who would go on to produce a fake biography about billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. The film loops around these two elliptically, constantly switching back and forth between the two, doubling back to re-affirm or recant earlier testimony, and throwing so many names at us in rapid fire succession that it at times begins to resemble a Monty Python sketch. He also floods the film with so many in-jokes and random goofiness that I spent the whole time trying not to blink for fear of missing anything.

Case in point: at one part near the end, Welles relates a lengthy story about Pablo Picasso reading about an art showing of his paintings, and, upon arriving there, finds that all of the paintings there are forgeries. While sputtering in rage, he meets a woman there that he had lusted after for many years, and had done a number of paintings of. She took him home from the showing, only to reveal to him that her grandfather had been the one that made all the forgeries, and they had intended the art showing as a favor to Picasso to get him some added fame. At the end of this quiet, somber tale, the camera abruptly pulls back to reveal the crew and other cameramen, and Welles tells us “At the start of the film, I told you that for the next hour I would tell you only the truth as is known from the available facts. That hour is now over. For the past seventeen minutes, I’ve been lying my ass off.”

As a long time fan of Welles, I can say with some measure of authority that this may be the best, and definitely the most entertaining, film I’ve ever seen from him. I have seen quite a lot of movies in my day, and I have never seen one that was anything like this. Go see it.

Rating: ****

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