Orson Welles’ reputation far exceeds that of his actual movies. Citizen Kane’s other worldly praise cements him as a great director, but one that has floundered since due to intensive meddling from studio executives. His greatest works are the ones that came from the fallout of this, with the likes of Touch of Evil and F for Fake bringing such incredible ideas to the table. Welles’ persona had far overtaken his work by the time his final movie released, and that is, in effect, what F for Fake is. A culmination of who Orson Welles was as both a persona and a director, and he couldn’t have managed the balance any better than this.
The final film to release before Welles’ death, F for Fake is as undefinable as the director that pioneered this documentary style drama piece. His insistence on telling us the whole truth and nothing but that for the first hour is critical to the viewing of the movie, and as Welles crafts this intricate tale of rivalries among passionate craftsmen, he is at the same time working his expectedly coarse magic behind the scenes.
Shot to trick the viewer into believing and disassociating fact from fiction, F for Fake is a tremendous film that blurs the line between fact and fiction. Welles prevails in a triumphant dissection of what is, in effect, a baffling and truly engaging piece that will hook even the slightest fan of his work. His efforts in front of and behind the camera are mesmerising, a real treat to see unfold. Even his most flustered and uncomfortably dull pieces of work (look no further than The Other Side of the Wind), Welles manages to perform well as a caricature of himself.
But that is perhaps the biggest downfall of F for Fake. Rather than a solid and tangiable subject to follow along with, Welles egotism and his opinion of his own status in the world of film often overtakes his narrative. Like I said at the start of this review, Welles’ reputation far exceeds that of his films, and F for Fake just about manages to make the leap between an interesting story and also a dissection of Welles himself. Arguably a movie not for everyone, only those that are interested in seeing an expanded story on the ability Welles has to subvert expectations.