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