[F FOR FAKE screens Wednesday February 25th and Friday February 27th at 7:00 pm at the Cleveland Museum of Art Morley Lecture Hall.]
Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.
Historically, F FOR FAKE is noteworthy not only as Orson Welle's final completed feature (if it even was an Orson Welles feature; more on that later), but as the first work ever shown, in 1975, in the alt-film series that would become the Cleveland International Film Festival. That was truly an auspicious beginning.
Welles' "nonfiction" has aged very well since its debut. Didn't he talk about selling no wine before its time? The music-video age era acclimatized audiences to non-linear plots and editing, and the late, great cult-conspiracy author-guru Robert Anton Wilson positively raved about this picture as creating a thoroughly duplicitous alternate reality all its own.
Welles (purportedly) had started out to make a documentary about Hungarian-born Elmyr de Hory, a masterful art forger of fraudulent Impressionist paintings. An indeterminate number of his counterfeit Matisses, Modiglianis and Picassos may still hang in galleries, mistaken (or unethically passed off) as genuine. Welles' original narrative, `Hoax,' mutated when Clifford Irving, an author and `Hoax' interviewee who had written a book on de Hory, was busted for selling a similar "autobiography" of recluse billionaire Howard Hughes - although he had in fact never spoken with Hughes.
Charmed with the positively post-modern atmosphere of chicanery and imposture on Ibiza, a Mediterranean jet-set resort isle where the shooting of `Hoax'/F FOR FAKE had been centered, Welles philosophizes about de Hory, about Irving, about Welles' own show-business career as a storyteller/charlatan, part-time magician, and creator of a sham War of the Worlds Martian invasion via radio (represented onscreen by clips from the lively B-movie EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS.
After a whimsical, if none-too-clear recap of the de Hory/Irving/Hughes media circus, Welles goes off on a flight of fancy with a tale of Pablo Picasso conned by a sexy scam-artist, played by Welles' offscreen consort, the young and lovely Oja Kodar. She and a magician-cloaked Welles role-play (he as Picasso) in a foggy set meant to represent Paris but which is, of course, an illusion, while Welles ruminates on the meaning of authorship, on whether it really matters if a perfectly faked painting is `real' or not ("the greatest forger of Picasso is...Picasso").
This latter digression may or may not try your patience, but Welles' pure joy in putting together this hodgepodge of hoaxes, quotations, conjuring and images of the pretty, would-never-be-caught-speaking-to-Charles-Cassady Ms. Kodar, is palpable.
Meanwhile, Robert Anton Wilson maintained that Welles actually DIDN'T direct much of F FOR FAKE, adding a further layer of playful deceit. It may be worth mentioning that Emil de Hory ultimately committed suicide, though there were the inevitable yarns that he had at least entertained the idea of faking his own death.
What can I say? Great stuff and essential viewing. Consider it a compliment to Welles that the Cleveland International Film Festival has had trouble living up to the standard of F FOR FAKE ever since. That's what they got for not booking a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT movie as their opener instead. (3 3/4 out of 4 stars)