F for Fake (1973) – Orson Welles


The final Orson Welles recommended title following my screening of Citizen Kane for the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, is this entertaining, quick-cutting, documentary about frauds, forgery, and fakery.

Wandering delightfully from subject to subject, Welles regales the viewer with a number of stories, most based in fact, about lies and fallacies.

He discusses his own career briefly, and the uproar caused by his Mercury Theater radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, and also tales of the reclusive Howard Hughes.

Hughes comes into it through the thrust of the majority of the film, which focuses on the Clifford Irving, who’s infamous, fraudulent biography of Hughes couldn’t be separated from the truth, and who, in this film, has also written about one of the most celebrated art forgers of all time, Elmyr de Hory.

It seems Elmyr can create or copy, and then pass off one of as originals in a matter of hours, mimicking the styles and techniques of any of the masters, and has a number of his pieces hanging in museums around the world claiming to be the real deal.

But where is the line between reality and fabrication, as both Elymr and Irving are frauds, not just in their professional lives, but in their personal ones as well, the ground seems to shift beneath the viewer on a regular basis, not in a disenchanting way, but in a way that keeps you hooked, and wondering what could possibly be coming next?!? Welles gets in on this himself, performing tricks, telling lies, and even pulling a fast one on the viewer.


I love the way the film is put together, the quick-style editing, Welles talking to the camera, setting up stories, sharing tales, and pulling tricks. I was pleasantly surprised by this film, as I went into it not knowing what to expect, and now, having seen it, can’t believe I had never heard of Irving or de Hory before. The pair of them are fascinating subjects, and watching the shifting sands of their stories, is a real delight.

Welles is in top-form in this film, and the stories, and lies leap around almost in free-form, almost like a conversation, and it is highly enjoyable as such.

I would be very interested in learning more about the whole fake Howard Hughes biography that Irving published, not to read the book itself, but to find out more about the lies and fallacy that came about in its creation.

Elmyr is a fascinating man, and makes for an interesting case study, and as mentioned, it was a bit of a revelation to learn about him, as I had never heard about him before, but his story, and the possibility of many of his works being hung in prestigious museums around the world masquerading as actual works of the masters is incredibly interesting to me.

Have you heard of de Hory or Irving?





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