Taking his cue from renowned Hungarian art forger Elmyr de Hory and the American author Clifford Irving, who gained fame with his fake Howard Hughes biography, legendary filmmaker Orson Welles attempts to expose the degree of fakery in the artistic world. From his own penchant for magic tricks to the forged masterpieces allegedly hanging on the walls of great museums and an actress' claim that she was Pablo Picasso's true muse, Welles wittily examines the nature of duplicity and counterfeiting, while employing all the tricks he has at his disposal to call his own story into question.

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A witty examination of duplicity.

A buoyant, delightfully playful Orson Welles exposes the artifice of film in his 1975 head scratcher, F For Fake.

In the latter stages of his career, Welles was a bear-like but jovial 60 year-old, seemingly intent on deconstructing his own image as a spinner of cinematic yarns. In F for Fake he introduces us to the illusory world of Elmyr de Hory, a man renowned throughout Europe as a master of forged artworks. Within minutes, he can scratch up a Modigliani portrait or a Picasso etching, and many of his works adorn the galleries of Paris, the villas of Barcelona and tellingly, the mansions of Los Angeles.

Fascinating characters pop in and out of Welles’ jaunty, at times giddying film. Author Clifford Irving, de Hory’s biographer (and himself a convicted fraudster, for his faked autobiography of Howard Hughes), exposes de Hory’s sad truths and how his canvas illusions infused his life; special appearances – some of them quite loopy – include Laurence Harvey, Joseph Cotten, Nina Van Pallandt, and the film’s cinematographers, American Gary Graver and Frenchman Christian Odasso.

In his exploration of Elmyr de Hory’s eccentricities and fakery, Welles is strongest when he turns the camera on himself and on his own art form of illusion, film. The opening sequence involves Welles, his (fake) camera crew nearby, mystifying a young boy at a train station with some corny sleight-of-hand. It leads to the streets of Paris, where a statuesque beauty (Welles’ real-life girlfriend, Oja Kodar) endures the leers and whistles of real-life Parisians, who are unaware that they are being filmed. Welles is proposing, 'Where is the illusion? Is it in the staged, clichéd train station sequence or in filmed reality?"

F For Fake won’t allow you to answer that question easily. Welles delights in scratching every cinematic itch to dilute his subjects’ reality – freeze frames, jumps cuts, over-dubs, slow fades, you name it. He even reconstructs then deconstructs his own mass-forgery – that of an alien invasion, in his legendary radio-show version of War Of The Worlds.

To follow his analogy to the end, Welles would paint us, the audience, as that little boy on the train station, gaping wide-eyed as the con man turns a key into a coin. But it’s no insult; the real target of F For Fake is the forger, the illusionist who derives inane pleasure from such simple trickery – the filmmaker himself, and his contemporaries.