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F For Fake

Posted 24 Oct 2009 — by Jason A. Hill
Category Essay, Film Reviews, Most Confusing Films of All time, Movies I Got

By Jason A. Hill

F for Fake, France / Iran / West Germany, 1973

Directed by Orson Welles

orson welles

With the recent new release of Michael Moore’s latest effort, Capitalism: A Love Story, I thought it would be a good time to talk about a seldom understood yet truly great documentary film, F for Fake.

Spoiler Alert

F for Fake, a film documentary about truth and authorship in art by Orson Welles released in 1973, is almost as much a narrative film as it is a documentary. It covers two “fakes”: famed art forger Elmyr de Hory, and pretend Howard Hughes biographer Clifford Irving. The film – narrated by Welles in different scenes set variously in train stations, a studio soundstage, and in the actual editing room – follows several stories, all dealing with the same concept: truth in art. First we follow the story of Elmyr de Hory, who we come to learn has forged possibly hundreds of art masterpieces over a period of twenty years. De Hory states that the reason for his career’s success is that the “so called experts” are in fact no experts at all, and his body of work is the proof. It’s not clear which of de Hory’s claims are really true, but the film’s evidence of de Hory’s guilt alone is enough to validate at least the idea that he would be guilty of nothing if forging a masterpiece was not possible.

Later, the film discusses Clifford Irving, who is present in many of the scenes with Elmyr and who gives his own account of de Hory’s adventures in a book he recently wrote. Irving’s hoax with Howard Hughes actually unfolds in the middle of the making of F for Fake and makes for a pretty intriguing plot twist. Welles explains that until Irving actually confesses, there was still doubt as to Irving’s guilt, and this is difficult to prove either way due to the mysterious nature of Hughes himself.

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