The screening wasn’t packed, but once again Dartington’s Barn proves itself to be the South West’s premiere art-house cinema, with a limited run of Orson Welles’, F for Fake.
Welles’ penultimate film is billed as a documentary about fakers, liars and charlatans, and it certainly boasts all three -Welles included -but its classification as a documentary, is somewhat dubious. Nevertheless, in the hands of Welles, F for Fake is a film that is exuberant, self-indulgent, whimsical and quite simply, a pleasure to watch. It is no exaggeration to say it is imbued with all of the quintessential Welles characteristics and those alone, set the film apart from any other documentary.
The film’s primary focus -Welles aside -is the art forger, Elmyr de Hory and his biographer, Clifford Irving -who went on to write the fraudulent and infamous, Howard Hughes autobiography. However, it isn’t long until Welles moves on to a subject far closer to his heart -himself! Welles un-surreptitiously steals the show from his subjects, moving-on to discuss how he started his career on the stage with a dodgy resume, pretending to be a famous actor from New York’s Broadway.
However, the film swiftly becomes a mediation upon the value of the ‘experts’ or critics, specifically art critics, as opposed to the film variety, but regardless, Welles’ position on critical opinion is quickly established, via his study of Hory and Irving’s works -both fakes and both critically lauded.
In something of a rant, Welles questions what makes a critic correct, why are these ‘experts’ the ones to judge, what is or isn’t art? As the film explicitly states, what one person calls a genuine Matisse, another calls a fake. It isn’t difficult to see Welles personal motivation here, considering how his latter films were often maligned (by film critics).
F for Fake sees Welles sat in the editing suite, piecing his film together as we watch its narrative unfold, and without question this is the work of a cinematic master, but one who wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed to focus upon his real star… Orson Welles. A minor film in the Welles cannon? Perhaps. Self-indulgent, yes, but as fresh and as vibrant as the day it was first released.