F for Fake
It is time for my last movie of 1973. Finally. When I started this year, the canals where I live were frozen over and now it is the tail end of summer. Five months. But 1973 has also been a great year in movies and there has been so much to watch.
“F for Fake” is, I am afraid, not among the best of the year. It is just too self-indulgent for my taste and, well, rather chaotic.
The background of this strange movie is that Orson Welles was hired to edit a documentary by Francois Reichenbach about an artist who forged famous paintings, Elmyr Hora, but in the process the stories covered were developing and apparently this became Welles own project. As such he made it a meditation on fakes, faking and fakers. What is real and what is fake and what does it even mean?
It is not even a documentary anymore, instead bits of stories are thrown up which may or may not be real. Everybody involved are to some extent cheats and we end up doubting if anything we have watched has any credibility at all. And we get an awful lot of Orson Welles himself.
It is almost hopeless to discern any structure in all this, but the main threads are these:
1. Elmyr Hora is a Hungarian art forger on Ibiza who can copy any painting and sold these as the real thing.
2. Elmyr’s biography was written by an English journalist, Clifford Irving, who told the story of the forger, but was himself denounced as a forger for an autobiography on Howard Hughes.
3. The art dealers who bought Elmyr’s paintings, sold them on with a huge profit and Elmyr saw very little of the money, the cheat being cheated.
4. Welles himself hoaxed the American public with his radio show “War of the Worlds”
5. A story is told about Oja Kodar, a Hungarian woman, who befriended Picasso and got him to make 22 paintings of her. When they were sold, Picasso were ready to denounce these as fakes, but did not recognize any of these.
All these stories are intertwined and rather than focusing on the stories, Welles constantly as the unreliable narrator returns to the idea of the fake, which in turn becomes very meta.
This insubstantial idea is both its strength and its weakness. By constantly tearing us away from the stories we are kept off-balance, and it is difficult to actually understand the story, but that is also the point. We should not fully understand the stories, just the element of the fake. This works well for some time, but 85 minutes is a long time to be kept off-balance with stories only half told, disjointed information and the constant reminder that we should not believe anything.
In a sense the film works so well that we get absolutely nothing out of it. Everything and everybody are miscredited. For entertainment, for wealth or for simply being a pathological fraud.
The honest truth is that I got so confused in the monotony on the fake theme that I started to get bored and that is never a good thing. A good deal less Welles, much less pontification and a semblance of structure would have done wonders for an idea and a story that deserves to be told.
A recommendation? Maybe. This is not for everybody, but I guess one should watch it, at least once.