‘F for Fake’
The Criterion Collection
Starting in the 1950s, Orson Welles had a habit of starting movies he couldn’t finish. Hollywood wouldn’t have him, and what money he acquired tended to be found piecemeal, sometimes from dodgy sources. One reason he was able to complete 1973’s sorta-doc/cine-essay/whatzit “F for Fake” is because it didn’t require him to shoot much. It’s technically a salvage job. At least half the footage, maybe more, is taken from an aborted documentary on noted art forger Elmyr de Hory. Welles was able to seize upon it and spin it into whatever he wanted. He emerged with a kaleidoscopic, frantically edited, intellectually mind-gaming look at truth and lies and magic and authenticity.
Much like “Citizen Kane” stood out in the 1940s, “F for Fake” stood out in the 1970s. No one knew what to make of it then, but its influence can be felt everywhere. But where “Kane” influenced wide-lens cinematography and long takes, “F for Fake” inspired editing. Outside of the purely avant-garde (or token drug trip sequences in counterculture cinema), it’s hard to find a faster-cutting movie from the period, with Welles jumping about the de Hory footage, then back to himself, playing our golden tongued narrator and charming guide. Images fly as the ideas; bewildering as it must have seemed to 1973 audiences, it’s impossible to imagine it any slower.
But it isn’t speed for speed’s sake. The idea is to overwhelm us, with fast talking, with fast cutting, with a story that keeps turning on itself, tearing itself down then building itself back up. Its style is intended to goose us. But it’s not actually as complex as it makes itself out to be — but it’s not supposed to be. Welles wants you to forget about something he says at the very start: that this film about lies will tell the truth, but only for an hour. Even if you’re checking the time display on your Blu-ray player, you may get so caught up in what “F for Fake” is doing that you might forget that and fall for the hilarious, plainly transparent, elaborate fib he spins, aided by his hotcha then-partner, Oja Kodar. Seeing that he conquered cinematography and then editing, who knows what other lands he could have manned with a little more money?
Special features: Many of the supplemental objects on Criterion’s new Blu-ray are carried over from its old DVD edition, including Welles’ lengthy chat with Tom Snyder (a Criterion fixture these days, having also appeared on the set for Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz”) and a feature-length doc on Welles’ unfinished projects, including the also forward-thinking, finally nearly patched-together “The Other Side of the Wind.”