By: Ryan Gibbs
F for Fake is not quite a documentary. It blends two narratives together with a series of vignittes and Welles’ thoughts on the concepts of hoaxes and authenticity. Welles made this film in conjunction with French director François Reichenbach, who had began shooting a film about art forger Elmyr de Hory and the pair collaborated on a new film that now included Clifford Irving, who wrote a book about de Hory and shortly thereafter would become infamous for writing a hoax autobiography of Howard Hughes.
The film is unlike anything in Welles’ filmography, and its experimental style may even throw off documentary fans. Yet, the film is endearingly unique and is one of Welles’ greatest achievements as a filmmaker. It proved that even at the end of his career, he was willing to test what a film could be, how it could be sequenced and what it could it do as a narrative artform.
Unfortunately, F for Fake wound up as Welles’ final major film as a director. Through the rest of the 70s and 80s he continued to be in demand as a character actor and commercial spokesperson, but many of his subsequent ideas such as “The Other Side of the Wind” and “The Dreamers” were unfortunately never completed. And so, F for Fake also stands as the last word on Welles as a groundbreaking, risk-taking filmmaker. Critics didn’t quite know what to make of it at the time of its release, and it was a point of contention and argument for years on whether it was brilliant or pretentious. Some of that argument continues today, but the general consensus has ultimately come to the film’s favor. It’s an unexpectedly unique end to Welles career.