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The Criterion Collection presents
F for Fake (1975)

"Experts are the new oracles. They speak to us with the absolute authority of the computer. And we bow down before them. They're God's own gift to the faker."
- Orson Welles

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: April 26, 2005

Stars: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving
Other Stars: Joseph Cotten, Richard Wilson, Fran¨ois Reichenbach
Director: Orson Welles, Fran¨ois Reichenbach

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity)
Run Time: 01h:28m:33s
Release Date: April 26, 2005
UPC: 037429206928
Genre: experimental

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ AA-A- A

DVD Review

It has taken Criterion nearly 300 releases to add an Orson Welles film to their collection, but they have at least finally done so with a bang: F for Fake. Welles' 1975 essay film about art and fakery, is not the easiest film for newcomers to the director, but its masterful editing and philosophical questioning should help win over a new audience.

Welles admitted he felt great disappointment when Fake failed to become any sort of success at the box office, but one of Welles' major failings as a director was his inability to judge commercial potential. A limited stateside release of the film (hardly unexpected, really) didn't help the box office either. The project began as the work of another director entirely: François Reichenbach, who was making a film about artist Elmyr de Hory (Elmyr: The True Portrait). Welles looked at the film Reichenbach had shot, and asked to use it in his own project. The result was a unique manipulation of Reichenbach's footage, stock footage, and new material shot by Welles, mixed together into a cunning, witty, unique meditation.

The film breaks down into two main sections. The first looks at de Hory, noted faker of famous painters (Modigliani and Picasso to name two) and Clifford Irving, biographer of de Hory, and more notoriously, writer of a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes. This section snakes its way through their stories and touches on the nature of experts when it comes to art, and what exactly constitutes a work of art. As mentioned above, the editing throughout the film, but in this section in particular, is a thing of beauty. Welles re-arranged the original footage to make different shots appear to carry on conversations, comment on each other, and contradict each other. The original Reichenbach film exists, and if there's one failing with Criterion's package here, it's the lack of that film, which would allow a nice opportunity for comparison, to see what Welles used and how he used it.

The second section looks at an fictional incident between Oja Kodar (Welles' companion and artistic partner) and Pablo Picasso, in which she posed for the famous painter with devious motives in mind. Originally scripted by Kodar, this section lacks the bite of the first, but allows Welles to carry on the discussion about "real" and "fake" art in a different context. It also allows the camera to ogle Kodar; one major feature of Welles' work with Kodar is the examination of sex and eroticism that took place once they formed their artistic partnership. A look at the second scene from The Other Side of the Wind in the One Man Band documentary on the second disc will further underscore this point.

Welles, who had been hired on numerous occasions to provide "voice of authority" narration in a variety of documentaries both legitimate and otherwise, knew well how easy it was (and is) to fool the public into thinking something is what it is not. He also knew firsthand how critics/experts, given authority and respect regardless of whether it is deserved, could be wrong. Just four years earlier, Pauline Kael's shoddily researched and dubiously motivated essay on Citizen Kane had appeared, in which Kael tried to deny Welles any credit for his work on the Kane script, an assertion that dogged Welles afterwards, but which has since been thoroughly debunked. Welles' demonstrations in Fake of how even supposed experts can be bamboozled (or more importantly, choose ignorance) stands, however veiled, as a fairly conclusive response to Kael.

For another Kane connection (and there are others), look at the similarities between Irving and Welles; each made a splash with a fictionalized work depicting a major figure in American life. For Irving, it was Hughes, for Welles it was Hearst. Each paid a price for their work, though Irving, who served federal jail time for his hoax, suffered the more immediate punishment.

There are other threads of interest; if the film is anything, it is beautifully multilayered, and a film that will reward repeated viewings. And, in this day and age, the film's examination of "experts" and their roles in the commodification of art look ever more relevant. And if nothing else, you should come away impressed by Welles' mastery of the editing process. Welles always claimed that editing was where a movie was made or broken, and F for Fake stands as a remarkable, vivid example of that skill.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Considering the different stocks spliced together to make this film, it looks quite nice overall. There are constant shots of varying quality, but it's rarely of a distracting nature. It isn't perfect and won't be a film you pull out to show off your system, but for what is required, it's very nice. Criterion's anamorphic transfer presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, which, at least on a widescreen monitor, shows the film to better effect than the laserdisc release did, which suffered from television overscan.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The film is presented with its original mono soundtrack, and it sounds fine. Dialogue is clear and comprehensible, and Michel Legrand's score comes across nicely.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Oja Kodar and Gary Graver
Packaging: Nexpak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Audio clips of Howard Hughes' 1972 press conference
Extras Review: The primary extra on Disc 1 is the audio commentary with Oja Kodar and Welles' longtime cameraman, Gary Graver. Both worked with Welles throughout the final 15 years or so of his life, and each has affectionate tales to tell about Welles the filmmaker and Welles the man. Graver spends more time discussing the technical aspects of the film, as is to be expected, while Kodar discusses more philosophical matters, for lack of a better term. Each was recorded separately. The commentary is indexed for access to specific points.

Also on Disc 1 is the trailer to Fake, which stands more as a short Welles film than a typical trailer. Running 09m:08s, it contains a good deal of footage shot specifically for the trailer. Unsurprisingly, as Graver discusses during the commentary, the American distributor wanted nothing to do with such a long trailer, and cut their own. The beat up, black-and-white print used here (Graver explains what happened to the negative in the commentary) appears to be the same used on Criterion's laserdisc of the title; a color restoration was undertaken by the Munich Film Museum and was reportedly released on an Italian DVD of the film.

Finally, a Peter Bogdanovich introduction (06m:29s) rounds out the features on the first disc. It does what it says on the box, namely serving as a nice capsule summary of what the film is about, as well as supplying some useful background on Welles' intentions and reactions to the film and its reception.

The major extra of interest to Welles fans on Disc 2 is the 1995 German documentary, One Man Band (87m:33s). Directed by Vasili Silovic and Oja Kodar, the film looks at Welles' work as an independent filmmaker during the final 15 or so years of his life. Criterion's onscreen notes state that the film was directly inspired by F for Fake, but that's true only in the loosest sense. There is some effort to point out occasions of fact and fiction within Welles' life and work, but the documentary hardly shares the same style of playing fast and loose with footage and overall intent. If Criterion had wanted a similar set-up to Fake, they should have licensed the version of One Man Band that screened on Showtime in 2003; that version was put together by Peter Bogdanovich, who did much the same thing as Welles did, in taking the original film and impressing his own vision upon it. The Showtime version of One Man Band also served as more of an introduction to Welles for neophytes, which the original does not. In any case, the film provides glimpses of several unfinished or otherwise lost Welles projects, including the one most likely to be completed, The Other Side of the Wind. Two scenes from Wind are included, one a charged sex scene in a moving car with Kodar, the other a party scene with John Huston (who played the main character, an aging director) and Peter Bogdanovich (who played, well, a thinly veiled version of Peter Bogdanovich). Bogdanovich has been working to clear the film's tangled legal situation for several years, and he has repeatedly stated that there is hope for the picture to finally see some form of completion, which is good news, especially when the narrator of One Man Band tells us that the film will likely remain unreleased forever.

Aside from the tantalizing looks at Wind, we see pieces of The Merchant of Venice, The Dreamers, The Deep, Filming The Trial, filmed dramatic readings of Moby Dick, and comedic shorts of varying quality like Churchill, Stately Homes, and Tailors. If there is one weakness of the documentary beyond the brevity of the clips, it is that some aren't really put into any context, although in some cases the footage exists without anyone knowing why Welles shot it to begin with. The lack of any footage of Don Quixote, which Welles began in the 1950s, is hard to accept, given that it fit into the overall concept of the picture even if its timeframe didn't. It would also have been nice to hear from others who worked with Welles during his "wilderness years," besides Kodar.

The picture quality of One Man Band is fine, with the Welles footage of varying quality, some looking fairly rough indeed. The new footage for the documentary occasionally shows a shimmering effect during movement, but it wasn't overly distracting, and given that it doesn't occur during the Welles footage, I wasn't overly bothered by it. Made for television, the film is presented in its correct full-screen ratio.

Almost True: The Noble Art of Forgery (51m:49s) is a Norwegian documentary that attempts to track down the facts of Elmyr's life, and it's an engaging look at the man. Featuring interviews with Irving, Ursula Andress, and other people who knew or were close to Elmyr, the film doesn't necessarily settle anything about Elmyr's life, but it does provide the viewer with a more straightforward portrait than F for Fake.

The final two extras relate to the Irving-Hughes affair, the first being a 60 Minutes II interview (06m:48s) with Irving from 2000. Mike Wallace, who interviewed Irving on the show when the story originally broke, conducts the new interview with the generally repentant Irving. It's too brief, but it's enjoyable nonetheless.

Lastly, there is the Howard Hughes teleconference (17m:36s) heard briefly in F for Fake, where the voice of Hughes denies any knowledge of Irving or his book. The viewer can cycle through any of the 14 questions, reading the question onscreen and then listening to the audio of Hughes responding. Most of the questions are straghtforward, but I did have to laugh at the one asking whether Hughes received manicures to maintain his nails, given his denial of stories that he had long, unkempt nails. Hughes spends a full minute discussing his nail maintenance techniques. Sadly, no one followed up with a question about his wearing kleenex boxes for shoes. There is nothing revelatory here, and it's good for one listen.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Criterion's presentation of F for Fake includes a wide range of illuminating extras for those interested in the film and in Welles. The film is more than rich enough to stand alone, but the collection of materials gathered here provide valuable illumination of both the artist and his art.


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