The Truth Behind The Lies?
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Simon Kennedy makes his debut with a review of Orson Welles’ F For Fake, available now on Blu-Ray from Criterion in the UK…
Orson Welles was not adverse to a little ‘hanky pankying’ with the truth. He seemed to like the idea of being the best fraud a person could be. He confirms this within the first 15 minutes of F for Fake. He had form. In early life he was a magician, tricking the paying public. Then he turned to painting, replicating the masters. Then finally to a director and actor. Metamorphosing into others. In F for Fake, Welles explores the lives of two of the greatest forgers. Two hanky panky masters. Two swindlers that cheated and defrauded with a grace par excellence.
Elmry de Hory, Holocaust survivor and world-renowed art forger, decamped to Ibiza and began selling art works. Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Renoir were in his almost infinite collection. Were these rewards from the war, a family collection or something else? It was discovered that he had replicated all of them. He had convinced serious art dealers that they were legitimate and the public the same. It was only after writer Clifford Irving revealed to the world the inner workings of the man, that the truth surfaced. Perversely, Irving seemed to have much in common with de Hory. Duping the world into believing Howard Hughes, the famous recluse, had gifted his life story to him. Hughes had done no such thing and challenged this from the end of a phone.
Seeing as truth and lies in cinema are never phrased as plain deceit or deception, we are taken to accept deviousness as essential components of cinema. Visual lies overlap with palatable reality. Humans are performers. They recreate. They reflect on verisimilitude. Welles unpicks this. Truth isn’t just for the viewer. It is for the constructor. The person telling the story, is as much the master of truth as those the story is about. Welles reflects this via Irving. A man that narrated a forger’s life and in this very act, defined how the act and the person we consumed. When in turn Irving was revealed to be a faker as well, we define this via de Hory. A lie within a lie. Welles must open the conversation on duplicity in F for Fake. Truth isn’t just verimisilitude. It can itself create a fiction. It asserts a fact and a fiction as one. What is the truth? Well what does truth even mean?
The extras are what we expect from Criterion. However, firstly we must discuss this ‘restored’ transfer. Its grainy and often tinted with a slight yellow hue. A step up from the terrible Eureka DVD but only because it happens to be on Blu ray. The Oja Kodar commentary provides details of Welles and the ambitious ideas he seeps the film in: fact, fiction and the cinema as an agent of lies. The great man’s love of the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ and as Gar Graver states ‘the workings of a lie’ in cinema. For Welles fans, the documentary on his unfinished works is worth the disc price alone as is the documentary on de Hory. Both have the power to reframe their respective muses. Both Hughes pieces, one seeing Irving being interviewed about the fake and the other his own press conference, give the two sides of the argument about the effects of fakes.
BLU-RAY Special Edition Features
- Restored digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Audio commentary from 2005 by co-writer and star Oja Kodar and director of photography Gary Graver
- Introduction from 2005 by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich
- Orson Welles: One-Man Band, a documentary from 1995 about Welles’s unfinished projects
- Almost True: The Noble Art of Forgery, a 52-minute documentary from 1997 about art forger Elmyr de Hory
- 60 Minutes interview from 2000 with Clifford Irving about his Howard Hughes autobiography hoax
- Hughes’s 1972 press conference exposing Irving’s hoax
- Extended, 9-minute trailer
- PLUS: An essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum