F for Fake

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F for Fake
F for Fake poster.jpg
Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by François Reichenbach
Dominique Antoine
Richard Drewitt
Written by Orson Welles
Oja Kodar
Starring Orson Welles
Oja Kodar
Joseph Cotten
Elmyr de Hory
Clifford Irving
François Reichenbach
Gary Graver
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography François Reichenbach
Editing by Marie-Sophie Dubus
Dominique Engerer
Distributed by Specialty Films
Release dates September 25, 1975
Running time 85 minutes
Country France / Iran / West Germany
Language English / French / Spanish

F for Fake (French: Vérités et mensonges, "Truths and lies") is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering investigation of the natures of authorship and authenticity, as well as the basis of the value of art. Loosely a documentary, the film operates in several different genres and has been described as a kind of film essay.

Far from serving as a traditional documentary on Elmyr de Hory, the film also incorporates Welles's companion Oja Kodar, notorious "hoax-biographer" Clifford Irving, and Orson Welles as himself.

In addition to the 85-minute film, in 1976 Welles also shot and edited a self-contained 9-minute short film as a "trailer", almost entirely composed of original material not found in the main film itself.


Several narratives are woven together throughout the film, including those of de Hory, Irving, Welles, Howard Hughes and Kodar.

About de Hory, we learn that he was a struggling artist who turned to forgery out of desperation, only to see the greater share of the profits from his deceptions go to doubly unscrupulous art dealers. As partial compensation for that injustice, he is maintained in a villa in Ibiza by one of his dealers. What is only hinted at in Welles's documentary is that de Hory had recently served a two-month sentence in a Spanish prison for homosexuality and consorting with criminals. (De Hory would commit suicide a few years after the release of Welles' film, on hearing that Spain had agreed to turn him over to the French authorities.)

Irving's original part in F for Fake was as de Hory's biographer, but his part grew unexpectedly at some point during production. There has not always been agreement among commentators over just how that production unfolded, but the now-accepted story[1] is that the director François Reichenbach shot a documentary about de Hory and Irving before giving his footage to Welles, who then shot additional footage with Reichenbach as his cinematographer.

In the time between the shooting of Reichenbach's documentary and the finishing of Welles', it became known that Irving had perpetrated a hoax of his own, namely a fabricated "authorized biography" of Howard Hughes (the hoax was later fictionalized in The Hoax). This discovery prompted the shooting of still more footage, which then got woven into F for Fake. Blurring the lines even more, there are several pieces of footage in the film showing Welles at a party with De Hory, and, at one point, De Hory even signs a painting with a forgery of Welles' signature. Some of Hughes' career is outlined in the form of a parody of the "News on the March" sequence in Citizen Kane.

Exactly one hour before narrating Kodar's story, Welles promises that everything in the next hour of his film will be true. Exactly one hour later, the film tells a story where Kodar sits for a series of nudes for Pablo Picasso after getting him to agree to give her the finished portraits, and then selling not those very portraits but fake Picassos in their place. The story climaxes with Welles and Kodar re-enacting a tense exchange between Picasso and Kodar's grandfather, the alleged forger of the paintings, before Welles reminds the viewer that he only promised to tell the truth for an hour and that "for the last 17 minutes, I've been lying my head off."

In the commentary to the Criterion Collection DVD release of F for Fake, Kodar claims the idea for this segment as her own. She also claims credit for the movie's opening sequence, which consists of shots of a miniskirt-clad Kodar walking down streets while rubbernecking male admirers (unaware that they are being filmed) stop and openly stare. This sequence is described by Kodar as inspired by her feminism.




The Donjon de Houdan, seen in the Oja and Picasso story.


F for Fake was not released in the USA until 1976. When it finally came out, Welles produced a "trailer" for it, which was effectively a wholly original 9-minute film, shot and edited in a similar style to the film itself. Apart from some very brief split-second camera shots, the entire film is a self-contained short containing original material starring Welles, Gary Graver and Oja Kodar. No cinema distributor was willing to show the 9-minute film, and for many years it was believed to be lost, and only in existence in a black and white workprint. It has subsequently been restored in colour, and is included as an extra on some DVD versions of the film.[3]


F for Fake faced widespread popular rejection in the United States upon its release, though it fared better commercially in Europe.[citation needed] Critical reaction ranged from praise to confusion and hostility, with many finding the work to be indulgent or incoherent.[citation needed] F for Fake has grown in stature over the years and is now often considered not only a film classic, but a precursor to modern editing techniques as well as a popularizer of more avant-garde methods.[citation needed] As the film embraces everything from self-conscious notation of the film process to ironic employment of 1950s-era B movie footage, Welles in essence was creating not so much a documentary as a "new kind of film," as he once told writer Jonathan Rosenbaum.[4] F for Fake is now sometimes referred to as a "film essay."


F for Fake is often judged as a masterpiece of the art of film editing[5] — a key subject of the film itself, which at many points shows Welles sitting at his editing desk as he narrates. Welles and his assistants worked on the final cut for an entire year, working seven days a week[4]—shots are rapidly intercut almost by the second throughout, lending the film a quick-paced touch. One of the examples considered to be among the best is a series of near wordless shots of Irving and de Hory seemingly in debate as to whether de Hory ever signed his forgeries (the shots of Irving and de Hory were in fact taken at different times). Some have even argued that after Citizen Kane, F for Fake is Welles's most influential film, for it invented the MTV style of editing.[6]

Welles's autobiographical asides in the film reflect on his 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which caused a nationwide panic with its fake news broadcast. In introducing this chapter of his life, Welles declares his uncertainty as to his own authenticity, as he believes he too has engaged in fraud. Interestingly, while the basic facts of the War of the Worlds incident are correctly given, the apparent excerpts from the play featured in the movie are complete fabrications, including a scene in which President Roosevelt meets the Martian invaders—something which did not happen in the original (fabricated) broadcast.

Questions of truthfulness[edit]

Author Robert Anton Wilson, a great fan of the film, argued in Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death that the film was itself largely an intentional effort at fakery by Welles in support of the film's themes. Most directly, Wilson reports that in the BBC documentary Orson Welles: Stories of a Life in Film, Welles stated that "everything in that film was fake." Secondly, many of the interviews in the film were with people who were themselves directly involved with forgery in one way or another, often making statements that would have been known by the filmmakers to be false, but which were allowed to pass without comment in the film. Similarly, Welles himself made numerous false statements about Oja Kodar in the film. Finally, Wilson points out several scenes which, while presented in a way that implies they were filmed in real time, were upon further inspection clearly fabricated from unrelated pieces of footage in a way guaranteed to mislead the casual viewer.

Home-video releases[edit]

  • 1995 Home Vision Cinema, Janus Films VHS (FAK 010), July 25, 1995[7]
  • 2005 The Criterion Collection, Region 1 DVD (Spine #288), April 26, 2005 – Two-disc special edition including audio commentary by Oja Kodar and Gary Graver, an introduction by Peter Bogdanovich, and the documentary Orson Welles: One-Man Band (1995)[8]
  • 2009 Madman Entertainment Directors Suite, Region 4 DVD, May 20, 2009 – Special features include audio commentary by Adrian Martin, Monash University, and the documentary Orson Welles: One-Man Band (1995)[9]
  • 2010 Eureka Video: Masters of Cinema, Region 2 DVD (Spine #31) – Special features include audio commentary by cinematographer Gary Graver and Bill Krohn, and Jonathan Rosenbaum on F For Fake[10]


  • Claudia Thieme, F for Fake: And the Growth in Complexity of Orson Welles' Documentary Form (Peter Lang Pub., 1997) 174pp.


  1. ^ Childers, Doug (June 21, 2005). "Hanky-Panky Men: Orson Welles' F for Fake". Retrieved February 24, 2010. 
  2. ^ Thieme, Claudia (1997). F for fake, and the growth in complexity of Orson Welles' documentary form. P. Lang. p. 95. ISBN 0-8204-3253-9. 
  3. ^ Gary Graver and Andrew J. Rausch, Making Movies With Orson Welles: A Memoir (Scarecrow Press, New York, 2008) p.170
  4. ^ a b Rosenbaum, Jonathan (April 25, 2005). "Orson Welles's Purloined Letter: F For Fake". Retrieved February 24, 2010. 
  5. ^ Schneider, Dan (November 1, 2006). "Review of F For Fake". NewYorkReview.Org. Retrieved March 13, 2010. [dead link]
  6. ^ Bromley, Patrick (June 6, 2005). "Review of F For Fake: Criterion Collection". DVD Verdict. Retrieved February 24, 2010. 
  7. ^ Liebenson, David, "Video: 'F for Fake' Joins Orson Welles Rarities". Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1995
  8. ^ F for Fake at The Criterion Collection
  9. ^ F for Fake at Madman Entertainment
  10. ^ F for Fake at Masters of Cinema

External links[edit]