F for Fake

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #288: Orson Welles’s F for Fake.


This is a movie about char­la­tans and han­ky-panky men, charis­mat­ic liars and ma­gi­cians. It is some­thing like a doc­u­men­tary but one in which a con man tells you he is a con man and is so good that he cons you any­way. As Welles’s penul­ti­mate film it does lack the panache of his ear­ly tri­umphs but it con­tin­ues to dis­play his mas­ter sto­ry-telling abil­i­ty. And his ego. But he’s such a lik­able ego­tist and jus­ti­fied in his ego­tism, that you don’t re­al­ly mind.

This re­view is go­ing to be ex­tra short, be­cause I’ll need to watch the film three or four more times be­fore I can fol­low it well enough to dis­cov­er the cha­rade. Watching it is a bit like play­ing three card monte with a six armed man.

I sup­pose it is a sto­ry about an ap­par­ent art forg­er and his bi­og­ra­phers ap­par­ent forgery of the bi­og­ra­phy with some oth­er forg­eries thrown in, such as the War of the Worlds broad­cast and some Picasso forg­eries by a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent forg­er whose may or may not grand­daugh­ter may or may not be play­ing the part of his ap­par­ent grand­daugh­ter.

That’s ba­si­cal­ly how the whole movie flows. Welles’s nar­ra­tion is as rapid fire and clause-rid­den as the edit­ing and cin­e­matog­ra­phy of the film it­self. They over­lap and in­ter­twine and then bust out in­to tan­gents and we get ab­solute­ly no sense of the con­ti­nu­ity that Welles’s nondiegetic nar­ra­tion seems to as­sume we’ll see in the die­ge­sis it­self.

We’re told by Welles him­self, af­ter he per­forms a few bits of leg­erde­main for some chil­dren and then has the set dis­man­tled around him, that for one hour he won’t tell a lie. The film is 88 min­utes long.

Criterion Essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum