Friday, October 24, 2008

In Depth Review: F For Fake (spoilers)

F For Fake (1975, Orsen Wells)

Orsen Wells directs and stars in this whimsical and playful 'documentary' regarding trickery. The film focuses primarily on the works of art forger Elmyr de Hory and his biographer, Clifford Irving (who also wrote a fictional biography about Howard Hughes). At times funny, at times surprising and at other times insightful and even thought provoking, F For Fake is more than just a collage of stories about people paving their road to success through trickery. Wells invites the viewer for an exploration of the mindset and motivation of people who have garnered fame and wealth all the while duping the general public, as well as the self described 'experts.'

Is a person who can replicate a work of art so accurately not talented or that merely profiting off the talent of others? What of a writer who has the guts and wit to fool everyone and get them to buy a biography that hasn't an ounce of truth in it? What does that say about the so called 'experts' and masses who embrace these works without the knowledge of their true nature? The movie, in its own entertaining way, throws our ideas of authenticity and truth on their heads. People will always have a fascination with those who choose dubious means to create their wealth and fame. But how many of them really deserve the scorn of men and women who make an 'honest' living? In the case of Elmyr de Hory, we have a person who is charming, funny, a socialite on the Spanish island of Ibiza, and obviously very talented. So much so that the man possesses the ability the re-create the works of Pablo Picasso and other phenomenal artists in only a couple of hours, which is a testament to his command of the paint brush. He claims he has fooled art dealers the world over, selling what they deemed to be original works when all the while they were but recreations done by Elmyr himself. Is that not a talent in of itself? There is a certain irony rested in the fact that Elmyr only began to make money by selling his secret recreations after failing miserably to earn a living with his own original work.

What's more, Elmyr finds a good friend in Clifford Irving, the author of a phony biography about the life of the famous and infamous American airplane pioneer Howard Hughes. Much like Elmyr, Irving is himself a bit of a charmer and often subtle and playful in the way he answers the questions thrown at him. He's relaxed and cool at all times, which is the reason why he's gotten so far in life after all. Neither Irving or Clifford seem feel the pressure of being caught for their trickery. Therein lies perhaps their greatest strength after all. These two friends have flirted with danger and success simultaneously through their respective practices. They are the masters at what they do, that is, fool people. Is it any wonder therefore that the viewer gets the impression that both are just as enigmatic when addressing the camera?

By the end of it, even Orsen Wells himself gets in on the act. After making a promise early in the film to tell nothing but the truth for the following hour, the viewer is duped into believing one last story about a beautiful woman (Oja Kodar) and how she seduced Pablo Picasso into doing 20 or so portraits of her and letting her walk away with every single one of them free of charge. The story continues with Picasso eventually coming face to face with her dying grandfather, who for years had successfully reproduced Picasso's work and made a living off of it. Great story, right? Well, as Wells rightly points out, the 1 hour mark came to an end 17 minutes ago, and therefore everything you have been lead to believe since then was a load of bull. The documentary filmmaker exploring fakery has just pulled one last coup on the audience because he knows he can and he knows that anyone can be fooled. Ironically, Orsen Wells, as the narrator, plays a magician of some sort, who are known for creating illusions of reality, which is the central theme of the movie. Wells, as the narrator, is also having a very good time and lets the atmosphere relax. He isn't out to persecute Irving and Elmyr, but to shine the spotlight on them and have some fun while doing so. His comments and dialogue are both funny and poignant.

One can't review the film without making a note regarding its editing style. Quickly paced, with detailed closeup shots and others in which all movements come to a halt, it is little wonder that F For Fake would influence some of the cinematographic techniques that would later characterize the music videos that are featured daily on stations such as MTV and Much Music. Say what you will have how 'cool' or 'pathetic' those music videos may be, in the case of this film the style is entertaining and adds some character to the proceedings.

Certainly an unorthodox documentary, but it greatly benefits from that uniqueness. And for those who aren't fans of documentaries, there is a lot of fun to be had here. It isn't the least bit dry.

1 comment:

Danyulengelke said...

Great review!

We're linking to your article for Cinema Verite Wednesday at

Keep up the good work!