F For Fake

A movie that establishes girl-watching as a reasonable pastime.

This was actually a hoax, the girl-watching (it wasn’t actually Oja Kodar walking in the streets that whole time but instead was at some point her sister in the same dress) that started a film of part pranks and part truth.

Orson Welles opens the rollercoaster ride by promising that in the next hour, he will be telling us the complete truth. However, earlier in the film, he mentioned magic, trickery, and his being a charlatan. If the title itself did not faze one from believing his words (since he is the writer as well as the director) then his wardrobe was anomalous enough to send alarm bells ringing. But the reflexivity of the documentary (and part mockumentary) did not deduct from its inherent movie-power (i.e. the ability to entrance one and forget about everything else) although the constant acknowledgment and featuring of the camera team made up a little for that.

Nonetheless, the audience (at least for the class) was preoccupied with trying to understand the film and decide if Welles is actually telling the truth or not (he can be very convincing, just read about the War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast which was also mentioned; this event in turn negates his claim of being a charlatan since his duping skills have already been proven as extremely effective by that event) that they failed to keep track of the time. According to Wikipedia, it was exactly one hour after he uttered that promise that he started telling the story of Oja and Picasso which was all a hoax.

F for Fake is a very engaging film in the facts that it: first had its creator alert the audience of incoming trickery; second, it is a movie about fakers where the stories told of these fakers were also at some point fake; and third, there are little oddities spewed about the film which makes one think and rethink its validity (i.e. Welles’ costume; Pablo Picasso, really?). Without resorting to online explanations, one would have relative difficulty in deciphering where the truth ends and the fakery starts, and vice versa. The editing of the film contributes to the seamlessness of the illusion.

For a documentary that Punk’d could only dream of becoming (in the pranking sense), F for Fake is somewhat a movie version of The New Novel, which, according to Robbe-Grillet's “In the Labyrinth”,

frustrates the desire for a stable and coherent world by presenting itself as a mise en abyme, a world within worlds, and stories within stories, in which it becomes increasingly difficult to determine which is "real" and which is "illusion."

In this documentary, Welles incorporated hoaxes like clips of a hoax authorized biography by François Reichenbach (a producer of F for Fake) of Elmyr de Hory (the art counterfeiter who is actually a real person) and real events like the War of the Worlds broadcast and footages shot precisely for F for Fake. Also, Oja Kodar is an actual person (co-writer of this film) placed in a faux story.

Everything is an intricately crafted illusion which further proves that Orson Welles is indeed a master of pranks and illusion (take that Chris Angel and David Blaine!… and Ashton Kutcher.)


Submitted by 051866


The film, studded with details, is a play on perception, challenging us to look closer and we rise to the challenge of uncovering something underneath the surface – if not profundity, at least truth. During the course of the film, Clifford Irving poses this question:

the important distinction to make when you’re talking about the genuine quality of a painting is not so much whether if it’s a real painting or a fake; it’s whether it’s a good fake or a bad fake.

F for Fake more than questions the (author)ity of experts – it asks us to consider the possibility that ownership of a single artwork is not confined to the author, that there is such a thing as multiple ownership and, prior to our persistent, natural mistrust for plurality in ownership, multiply ownership does not, necessarily, equate to a loss in essence or aura. The film, in this way, explodes our idea of an owner. For me, at least, if people like Elmyr were able to reproduce art without claiming ownership in the sense that the idea, concept, design was his, then Elmyr is an owner of the artwork in terms of having the capacity for distribution. He owns the artwork based on his capacity to showcase the artwork whereas the concept, design and style are owned by the artist he copied. The audience, also, shares in the multiplicity of ownership because the artwork produces in them a sincere reaction which allows them to comprehend and digest the art from their subjective positions. F for Fake brings to light the question of art – at least, paintings – taking on a public life.

Oja Kodar, whose real name was Olga Palinkas, stunning enough to hold Picasso’s attention, can be seen as an owner of the paintings Picasso supposedly produced inspired by her, because she contributed to the artistic process. F for Fake for me, asks us to take into consideration the string of effects and reactions that eventually conspire to create art. Art is almost a question of blame: Who is to blame? Is there anyone to blame?

Amazingly, a film about lies is truthful about identity, the distinction between replica and the original artifact. We should question why the film deigns to make this distinction when it obviously celebrates mimicry. The identity of fakes is validated through its relationship with the original, through masquerading as an original. Without the distinction associated with the original, then the fakes or the replicas, likewise, have no identity.

Elmyr de Hory, one of the world’s most renowned art forgers, never imitated art that had no identity on its own. He never painted a mock-up from an unknown artist. This is testament to the utilitarian value of art, as mentioned by the film. If a market exists for a particular commodity, people will fill that need. Our relationship with replicas are involved and unraveled. At the beginning of the film, Orson Welles engages us to look, closely, for any sign of trickery. The child, and the audience, complies but, regardless of looking for specific signs of forgery, we find none. Following the same logical analogy that juxtaposes magicians and fakers, the audience who receives both accept the fakes. There is, not only a market for the original, but a market for the replicas as well.

Where the question of quality versus quantity is never posed, we realize that not all replication, mimicry, is technically fake or untruthful in their status as an art form. I think Elmyr's fakes have a second dimension to their value. They aren't merely great works of art because of their depiction and reinterpretation of originals, but also because they are originals of Elmyr, a great artist in himself. Isn't artist someone who makes great art and isn't making great art what Elmyr, literally, did?

Not restricting itself to merely fraud regarding paintings, F for Fake also tackles a more subversive type of fakery. Clifford Irving is notorious for the hoax he created, the elaborate lie he told, about the biography of Howard Hughes. However well researched, the book was slammed as fake. However, for me at least, everything that is told as a narrative must have some element of fiction because of the editorializing that a linear process or series of events requires. Life, unfortunately, does not occur in a straight line.

During the course of the film, Elmyr says

If you hang them in a museum with your collection of great paintings, and they hang long enough there, they become real.

Elmyr burns his own imitations and the audience always restrains itself from reacting to the loss of something valuable, in some way. The reaction is an indication of recognizing that fakes, imitations, aren’t merely mimics of great art. Reproduction is an art in itself and I think we recognize that art is art regardless of origin.

The existence of fakes depend upon the market which concedes to faker-y, to being duped. There's an underlying fear of discovering the truth and the mimic perhaps because there's the threat of the mimic outstripping the original. To assuage this fear, we have elected a new kind of authority. According to Orson Welles:

What’s new? 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.

We encounter our aversion to fakes because of the underlying fear of untruth, not so much the act of lying which we hail, to some extent, as an art form in itself. I think the film is able to effectively revise our understanding of truth. There is a focus on subjective truth in the film, a truth that is reliant upon one's position, a truth more accepting of one's beliefs.

it's pretty but is it art? how is it valued? the value depends on opinion. opinion depends on the experts. a faker like Elmyr makes fools of the experts. so who're the experts? who's the faker?

Clifford Irving cashed in on the public interest concerning Howard Hughes. People were gossiping behind Hughes' back, telling tantalizing tales about his life, his exploits, so that he became a mystery. What's so different about those gossips, those half truths, and Irving's own version of the truth? It was his own ingenuity and talent at forgery that allowed him to become a successful fictionist. The film shows us how much we're willing to believe, the extent, breadth and width of our capacity to believe, how easy it is to form a belief and the somewhat complimentary need to be shocked, to be bombarded with the truth. I believe that F for Fake appeals, not only for exposing untruths and allowing us to revel at the skill of the reproduction but also by shocking us with the truth about ourselves: that we are willing to accept untruths, even over truths, despite being aware of it. Maybe, as creatures naturally enamored of beauty, it doesn't matter what is true or real because our experience of reality is grounded in sensation — the five senses — and sensations can be manufactured much like art.

In one of the film's numerous reviews online, the writer quotes Orson Welles' interview in the International Herald Tribune

In F for Fake I said I was a charlatan and didn't mean it … because I didn't want to sound superior to Elmyr, so i emphasized that I was a magician and called it a charlatan, which isn't the same thing. And so I was faking even then. Everything was a lie. There wasn't anything that wasn't.

F for Fake shows how we live naturally with the unreal and the real, where the distinctions are, sometimes, largely imaginary. Elmyr, his clients, Clifford Irving all demonstrate how easy it is to live with untruths. Welles wove his personal life with film. Aside from talking with Irving and Elmyr, he identifies himself as a charlatan, a magician. He plays the part as a narrator who, outside the conventions of narration, laughs and allows his voice melodic quality that professes his reaction to the story he's telling. I found this particularly striking because it sets the tone and mood for the audience. We know Welles' reactions to imitation, fakery and his voice literally lulls us into complicity. Even here, there is the sway of authority, of the expert at the material the audience has merely cursory knowledge of. Welles even acts as Oja's grandfather while staging a dialogue.

The film's politics of truth make the zenith of emotional attachment to the scene that was most manufactured appropriate. The last seventeen minutes where Oja's dying grandfather — touted as the world's greatest pirate — has a conversation with Picasso. However, the truth exposed by the art cannot be denied.

And there is a realization that, much like being a director — the singular, almighty hand and eye that move the narrative of lives and perspective — fiction must be incorporated into how we understand our daily lives. Professor Ty mentioned the net or mesh of cultures that, precisely in their junction, produce material products. As an example, he gave the impending cultural domestication of Korea by all things Japanese. He posits the question — what is original if a product was made by Koreans inspired by the Japanese? Authorship is questioned. In the same way, we cannot deny that Elmyr's products are art.


F for Fake on YouTube

Orson Welles' reflection on Chartres:

from BLOGCRITICS magazine, an informal article on F for Fake HERE.
If you're still interested about Orson Welles this is another article about his body of work.


edited by:
(c) Fights That End With Broken Noses 070343 MARCH 03 2009


I, too, wasn’t able to have any kind of preparation before viewing this movie but there are things that struck me. This movie is about desperation and forgery. It was saddening to see an artist “kill” his passion by forging works done by great artisans. In the film itself there were a couple of deceptions that I was able to observe. Notably, in the title sequence, the word practitioner was replaced by practitioners which was awesome. Forgery in multitude form, for me, that it was. The conception of an in idea to present it in its raw form but with utmost consideration is just absurdly genius. With this, and all the other little things, presented the idea in a profound way. This movie also blurs the line between what is true and what is a complete lie. As the movie progressed it was hard decipher what was real and what was just the product of a deceitful mind. The falsification of not just painting but of biographies to instigate the minds of the audience was enthralling. It is also a must to see and realize that something is always not what it seems to everyone. One thing may look wonderful for a person but generally dull looking for the other. There is no “absolute” per se that the truth is subject to the person viewing it.

Here are some quotes from the movie that are striking (c/o http://www.moviequotes.com/repository.cgi?pg=3&tt=305718)

1. “I started at the top and have been working my way down ever since. “
The first quote is a bit disappointing. It reflects how someone can be so degenerative just to fill his pocket regardless of what a “wasteful” life he has “lived”. Which brings me to this question, has he lived at all?
2. “Because the fakes are as good as the real ones, and there's a market, and there's a demand.”
3. “If you didn't have an art market, then fakers could not exist.”

The second and third quotes are intertwined together. This is just absolutely true. Let’s just talk about one of ultimate hot-selling forged item, yes, I pertaining to the indispensible “dibidi”. Who hasn’t watched or purchased a fake DVD, please cast the first stone :P

edited by 061957

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.