F For Fake
(The Criterion Collection)
Half the challenge of discussing Orson Welles’ last completed film F For Fake is pinpointing what it is. “An essay documentary,” is how Welles’ friend, director Peter Bogdanovich classifies it. Things get complicated pretty fast. A good portion of F For Fake is lifted from a documentary on famous art forger Elmyr de Hory. Mr. de Hory’s real-life biographer is no innocent either: He conned the world with a completely fabricated biography of Howard Hughes. Welles hosts the movie, delivering other scenes that are clearly dramatized. Questioning the truth in history, film and the material world, F For Fake offers little certainty of reality. Welles is looking at a difficult contradiction: Art is hailed as truth, yet is considered best when it lies most convincingly. By this train of thought, is de Hory not a credible artist when he imitates Picasso so well? And in communicating what he perceives as truth, is Picasso a plagiarist? F For Fake has been difficult to get in North America after its very limited theatrical run in 1972. Criterion restores an artifact of major interest in a generous two-DVD set.