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Movie Night

Last night was movie night at Jackson's Java, and the movie was Orson Welles' 1975 documentary F For Fake. Although it's not as well known, it pleases the eye and delights the imagination every bit as any of his other films. It's the most entertaining documentary I have ever seen. In fact, I think it may be the most entertaining documentary that can possibly be made.

F For Fake was originally intended to be a documentary about  art forger Elmyr de Hory, but an incredible and fortuitous coincidence turned it into a film about much more than art forgery. Halfway during production, de Hory's biographer Clifford Irving was implicated in a hoax involving reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Irving claimed to be writing Hughes's autobiography, when in fact he had never met the man. This happy accident gave Welles a much broader canvas to paint on.

The film is a broad exploration of the hoaxes and the difference between artifice and reality. It moves deftly back and forth between Hory's art hoaxes, Clifford Irving's infamous hoax, and even touches on Welles's infamous War Of The Worlds fiasco. It also helps that Welles' was once a magician. The tone is set nicely at the beginning with Welles in a train station doing magic tricks for two fascinated young boys.

Even the style of the film itself explores the nature of deceptions. As in many of his movies, Welle's does some interesting tricks with editing.
In one scene, you see him stand against a canvas back drop, and when it is moved he is in a different location. There are scenes where Welles narrates while sitting in front of a moviola editing F for Fake.

The movies theme of artifice vs. reality is no longer the virgin territory it was when Welles made this movie in 1975. It's been explored in popular movies such as The Usual Suspects and that movie M. Night Shymalayan made where things were not as they seemed. But, as Welles said at one point in the film, those are "fake fakes". This is the real thing. It makes the theme of reality and illusion seem completely fresh.  As Mary McCarthy said of Vladmir Nabokov's Pale Fire ( of which this film is the cinematic equivalent) it's' like nothing on God's earth.

If you plan to see this film, I would recommend not reading too much about it on the net. There is a twist in the film I haven't discussed here, and it's more effective if you don't know about it. (Although it's still quite effective if you do...last night was my second viewing).