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