F-FOR-FAKE

A review of an obscure indie film (courtesy of HuluPlus’ choice selection of films from the Criterion Collection), some film history & Eric Michael Kochmer. Read on to find out why indie filmmakers should care. Every #TBT.

————————————-

F-FOR-FAKE
Directed by Orson Welles / 1972 / Color

On May 5th of 2015, the 100th anniversary of Orson Welles’ birthday, his film “The Other Side of The Wind,” will be released theatrically. A rough edit of the film was completed by Welles while he was still living, but a combination of lacking finishing funds and the Iranian revolution stalled its original intended release in the late 1970’s. Funny enough, this is only one of many of Welles’ films that remained unreleased and unfinished when he passed away in 1985 at the age of 70.
F_for_Fake_posterOrson Welles was perhaps one of the most ambitious and innovative filmmaker in the history of movie making. He rocketed to world-wide fame with his outstanding presentation of the “War of the Worlds.” At the time he was already a legend in the theater world. He then moved on to Hollywood, getting an unprecedented three picture deal. His film career is one of the most prestigious and important. It’s also one of the saddest.
He never really made a blockbuster. Though his first film (“Citizen Kane”) is considered the greatest film ever made, when it was released, though it was well reviewed, it didn’t cause a stir at the box office. Same for his second film “The Magnificent Ambersons.” “The Stranger” (1946), was his largest box office success. His last films that he directed in the 1940’s were “The Lady from Shanghi” and “Macbeth” which were box office failures at the time, but like many of his overlooked works, hold up to the judgement of time. Taxes and communist sympathies moved him to Europe for the next decade where he became a pure independent director (except for one instance). This is also when financing for his projects became spotty and a lot of times he began using his acting fees to finance his projects. This circumstance lasted for the rest of his life.
Because of his fame and talent as an actor he always had a way to make income to support his projects. As well, he also made numerous  television travelogues, documentaries and short films. The man was always creating.
Not that he necessarily had good luck in his first studio days, but his films got done in a fairly timely manner, which may have had more to do with the fact that the studio’s threatened to take the films away from him. In fact “Kane” was the only film in Welles’ career that he was able to oversee through post. After the ’40’s he always had trouble getting his films through completion. “Othello” (1952) was awarded the Palm D’or at Cannes on the year of its release, and is a masterpiece, though flawed from uneven re-shoots and equally uneven dubbing. After this flawed masterpiece he put together a disjointed failure 7574_F-For-Fake-03“Mr. Arkadian” (1955) also titled “Confidential Report.” To say that the production was flawed is an understatement. The film was re-cut by its financiers and re-released five different times. In the mid-fifties he began shooting one of his many uncompleted films “Don Quiote” (finished in 2008 by Jess Franco – needless to say it’s a disjointed mess). At the end of the decade of self-imposed exile he returned to Hollywood. The story goes like this, Charlton Heston was offered a pretty standard noir picture “Touch of Evil” (1959), part of the offer was that Welles would be his co-star. Heston chose to understand that Welles would be directing the picture and studio executives, nervous that Heston would back out, offered the job to Welles. Whether that is legend or not, it led to Welles’ last studio picture. Even though it was made on time and under budget, the major studios never chose to get behind the great innovator again.
From that film until his death in 1985, all of his films were made with foreign financing, sometimes several financiers from different countries (even Iran). Projects came from French television stations; “The Trial” (1962) and “Chimes at Midnight” (1968) “The Immortal Story” (1968) and his last completed film “F-For-Fake” (1972).

“F-For-Fake” is an out and out masterpiece. Funded by a French television station, it was originally meant to be a documentary on Elmyr de Hory, an infamous replicator of great masterworks. The first narrative of the film is about de Hory, who painted and sold reproductions of Monet, Matisse and Picasso, to name a few. In these beginning passages, Welles interviews de Hory, snarky museum buyers (who insist that de Hory’s paintings are originals for the sake of their own reputation). He also has a lot of stock footage from the novelist/biographer Clifford Irving, who had written a book about de Hory.

This is the initial narrative of the film. However, as he was making it something interesting happened. Clifford Irving, the previously mentioned biographer, had written a book about Howard Hughes, which was supposedly made up of interviews with Hughes. Well, Hughes demanded on giving an interview with the press to explain that this novelist was writing fiction. Clearly, Irving had been banking on the fact that Hughes would probably not come out of hiding to call him out. He was wrong. This is where Welles decided to start exploring the idea of what a fake is. Now the film becomes about not only de Hory, but Irving and Welles. He philosophizes on the nature of deception and to what end artists will deceive. He looks for morals and motivation but mostly he finds old men with large ego’s defending their own sense of purpose.