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F for Fake

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F for Fake

“For the next hour, everything you hear from us is really true and based on solid fact,” says Orson Welles at the start of F for Fake. And with a run time of over an hour and a half, that is your first clue that you are not in for a normal ride. F for Fake is a true documentary in as much as Welles was a true documentarian. Which is to say, not exactly.

Welles was without question a brilliant actor, director, and jack of all trades in the movie business. However, he also prided himself on being a self described trickster, charlatan and magician, though as he puts it: “There are no magicians, only actors playing the parts of magicians.” With F for Fake, Welles takes a stab at encapsulating his favourite past time and tries to elevate the art of fakery and fraud to its rightful place in the artistic community. The film acts very much like a visual essay, drawing examples from the lives of art forger Elmyr de Hory, his interaction with hoax-biographer Clifford Irving and Welles’ own sordid life story, full of fanciful tales of little white lies and little green men.

While never forgiving the actions of the imposters he documents (nor even his own), Welles instead proposes the idea that a truly well executed hoax is, in of itself, a sublime work of art. To explore this idea, he crafts the film to be insightful and engaging, while always keeping the viewer at arms length, wondering at all times when we are being told the truth or simply being led on by the master trickster himself. At the core of Welles’ gripe is the hypocrisy of art criticism, and the idea that beauty and form is dictated entirely by the so-called experts and aficionados of the art community. The film argues that truly great art is an expression of yourself, and an expression of the love of your craft. If you express yourself by painting fake Picassos, how is what you did any less valid than what the real Picasso painted?

Going beyond the idea of forgery, the film also explores the troubled identity of the modern artist. In one truly stunning scene, Welles delivers a stirring monologue about the grand French cathedral Chartres, and the fact that its many builders and architects names were omitted from any part of it. In many ways a love letter to Chartres, the scene is also a subtlety enraged rant about the identity of art versus the mere presence of it. The scene culminates with Welles’ immortal words…

“Our songs will all be silenced. But what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.”

Which is something so radical and sublimely challenging that only Welles would attempt it: That the unity of art and artist is fundamentally obsolete.

At times profoundly reverent and at others gleefully prankish, F for Fake is Welles letting go of narrative and linear story telling to explain his passions as best he can. He takes the viewers expectations of what art, and indeed the very structure of documentary film making and jumbles them so gracefully that by the end of the film, no one is left unaffected. You may feel tricked. You may feel conned. However, you will not feel settled. At the risk of sounding too hyperbolic, anyone with a creative bone in their body should see F for Fake at least once just to ask themselves: What’s in a name?

– JD Renaud

— J.D. Renaud has no formal education in film, but that is more than evident upon meeting and/or seeing him. A purveyor of all things eccentric, he prides himself on being a guinea pig test subject for any new form of media he is given. He currently lives in Winnipeg Manitoba with his go-go dancer roommate.


Written by thesilentmajoritysays

March 7, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Posted in documentary

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