Orson Welles, in his last stage of creation, made with ‘F for Fake’ a magnificent reflection of the topics which most insistently appears through all his filmography: the duality between the real and the fictitious in the artistic representation.
Welles, in his works, he enjoyed trying to confound the narrated facts with a false documentary reality which was a second fiction. This duality between what’s really true and the pure farce fascinated Welles, up to the point of taking shape through his career as one of the thematic core of major importance in his works. We can’t trust the filmmaker Welles himself, he will lie to us and deceive us, if only to get at the heart of the movie’s main contention: you cannot trust anybody, especially anyone who asserts his or her authority without any basis or proof.
‘F for Fake’ ia a story about fakes, tricks, deceptions. In the beginnings of Welles’ professional career, diverse formal precedents of this film are found. Both ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941) and the unfinished documentary about the Carnival of Brazil ‘It’s All True’ (1942), are two clear precedents of this movie. Welles uses as starting point a material which was not filmed by him, but by François Reichenbach (a material belonging to the eliminations of a documentary about forgers) filmed in 1968 to the French television.
Welles weaves in ‘F for Fake’ a complex jigsaw in which the duality reality/fiction it’s brought to the extreme. The main narrative central themes are the stories of two of the most famous forgers of the 20th century: the first of them it’s Elmyr d’ Hory, an American painter of little standing who, scandalously, achieved fame because he was the major forger of works of art known until then.
D’ Hory falsifies paintings of Modigliani, Matisse or Picasso, and he was demanded by justice in several countries. The corrupt professional career of D’Hory came to light with a biography which was published by a writer who had fallen on hard times, who D’ Hory had known in Ibiza and had get married with a friend of the artist. Welles was fascinated by the material about D’ Hory and, finally, he decided to film the movie after breaking the published biographer of D’ Hory, Clifford Irving, who was accused of publishing a false autobiography about the multimillionaire Howard Hughes. This fact was a godsen for Welles’ intentions, so he filmed auxiliary material about two forgers, whom related openly about their respective scandals with a security which couldn’t presage their dark fate.
The film which Welles finally set up, was a chaotic collage which mixed fragments of the material belonging to Reichenbach with those fragments filmed by Welles himself and also with pieces of other works.
The film expounds the portrait of two personalities as interesting as enigmatic, just as welles liked to experiment his cinema.
But in the film it’s also included a self-portrait, and the duet of protagonists is expanded and enriched with the analysis of Welles about Welles himself. Welles, after declaring that what’s going to happen in the following hour of the film it’s pure reality. Welles proceeds to reel off the identities of both forgers, using for this a vertiginous montage in which he combines the fragments filmed by Reichenbach with his own fragments and he alternates his narration with the infirmation of D’ Hory and Irving stories.
‘F for Fake’ is itself a montage. Welles directs, in the film, with great mastery, the joint of oppressive shots which follow each other at a dizzy pace. The collage of images it’s reinforced because of the inclusion of newspapers and television news’ fragments, which form a second background narration, most objective and documentary than the fragments of the forgers’ interviews.
The montage room is the scene of Welles’ narration. In that roo the action replay appears as the instrument which creates magic, which turns a movie fragments into a continuum that gives realism and deceptive authenticity to what has been staged.
In the film it’s tried to demonstrate the power of the montage as the creator of an imaginary situation. An example it’s the sequence of Picasso’s photomontage, in which Oja Kodar had a false affair with the painter, who appears comically represented in photographs showing diverse expressions of his face behind a Venetian blind (creating with it a fiction which shows the illusionist force of the montage).
In cinema, a fake, under the appearance of reality that it shows, is hidden the the major lie: the forgery of reality. Here appears one of the most important reflections of the movie: what’s really Art?, who has the power to decide what’s really artistic and what’s not?
D’ Hory states his forgeries turn into works of art if they’re exhibited for enough time. This could provoke certain controversy, and it has to do with the accusations that Welles had received by the American cinematographic critic Pauline Kael, in which it was questioned the authorship of Welles on Citizen Kane’s screenplay.
“Experts” are the villains of ‘F for Fake’, people who must tell us whether we should swoon when looking at a particular painting or tuen up our noses in disgust. Just what exactly makes an “Expert“? Why are the often the easiest to fool? Is a Matisse that someone paid millions for suddenly less valid or less beautiful because it wasn’t painted by Matisse?
After the portrait of both forgers, Welles presents his self-portrait, describing his particular foray in the world of fake with diverse examples of his professional career, among which it stands out, especially, one of them. He represented on the radio the Martian invasion in New Jersey. Welles introduces himself in the movie as a forger. But, in the film exits much more a personal reflection as an artist than an objective portrait of two forgers.
Next, Welles immerses himself in an existential monologue in which he explains the ephemeral of life and the work of man, questioning the importance of the creation and the authorship of the artist, too whom irremissibly the time ends up destroying.
Welles finished with an epilogue in which he carries out other farce: the Picasso’s photomontage which turns the artist into a dirty old man seduced by the charms of Oja Kodar. Oja plays the role of a young woman who seduces the painter and she gets out of him (in exchange for posing naked and making him to relieve his lustful youth) twenty two paintings which are destroyed by Oja’s grandfather, who sells imitations of these paintings as if they were the originals. Again it’s mentioned the farce of the representation and the reality, the double game between the copy and the original. This is the particular Welles’ fake.
Eventually, the film allows Welles to reflect about the meaning of Art, its role and its relation with reality. The film, progressively, turns into a reflection about the world and the Art. Welles relates it in first person and he recalls his own career. Welles is always insisting upon one of the fundamentals of his cinema, the authenticity of his own “registered trademark” and the necessity of sacralizing everything with his signature (‘My name is Orson Welles’ is the hallmark of his films). The film finishes with a reference about the uselessness of art.