Orson Welles was the consummate trickster. Already a successful theater director, he burst into the public eye in 1939 with his infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, a pioneering piece of pseudo-documentary hucksterism. From there it was onto the capital of illusion, Hollywood, where he began a film career in which he repeatedly played with the audience's notions of the boundaries reality and imagination, and celebrated the power of magic.
In the documentary "F For Fake," which would ultimately prove to be his final directorial effort, he turns his lifelong fascination with trickery and illusion toward investigating the case of notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory and his equally notorious biographer (and Howard Hughes diary forger) Clifford Irving. As they tell their stories for his camera, Welles interweaves his own philosophizing on the power of fraud and the nature of art. Plus, as if that weren't enough, the careers of Hughes and Welles himself get mixed in for good measure.
And then there's the final 20 minutes or so, in which Welles detours into telling the story of Oja Kodar, which transcends all the indulgence and trickery that came before.
The result is an essay, really, more than a film -- but one that is sprawling and fascinating.
In the end, "F For Fake" becomes a fitting tribute to his career -- both thought-provoking and self-serving, dishing out equal parts brilliance and self-indulgence. And utterly ignored by the mainstream.
There's lots of good, quotable stuff here, but the discourse on the cathedral at Chartes stands out.
The excerpt of "War of the Worlds" that Welles includes is actually a recreation, not the original broadcast, and even includes some rewritten lines.
Welles' original "War of the Worlds" (1939) and "The Blair Witch Project" (1999).
Take a Look:
The Chartes monologue: