Monday, August 12, 2013

Criteritron #3

The Criteritron is an occasional series in which I take a look at The Criterion Collection's vast offerings on HuluPlus and recommend a title to watch.

The Criteritron #3: F for Fake
France/Iran/West Germany, 1974
Directed and co-written (with Oja Kodar) by Orson Welles

What Is It?: An "essay film"—neither a straight documentary nor a straight fiction—in which the iconic Orson Welles opines on the nature of authenticity, forgery, magic, and art. Welles uses the example of notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory and his biographer Clifford Irving—who was, himself, be embroiled in controversy during filming over his forged autobiography of Howard Hughes (as depicted in The Hoax)—to expound upon the place of lying and trickery in art. Along the way, Welles discusses his own famous "War of the Worlds" hoax, and questions the merits of using authorship and "expertise" to determine a work's value. The whole thing is shot through with Welles's stentorian narration and lightly ironic, winking charm, yet occasionally becomes touchingly profound, as in this famous scene:

Why Watch It?: As the last major completed film of Welles's directorial career, F for Fake is essential viewing for cinephiles and completists alike, but that is sort of a boring reason, no? Really, you should watch F for Fake because it manages to be engaging, insightful, and hilarious all while making us think and question our perspective on life, film, and art. Welles and editors Marie-Sophie Dubus and Dominique Engerer cut the film together from a range of sources, fusing existing footage, recreations, newsreel, newly-shot sequences, and Welles's direct-to-camera addresses into a cohesive argument. In some ways, F for Fake is the ur-text for the sort of documentaries we're seeing in the form's renaissance today—it's hard to imagine things like Man on Wire or The Impostor existing without Welles's influence. The film offers a rare chance to watch a master use all of the tools of his mastered art form to bend the medium to his will and make it organically express his opinion, without seeming to lecture or finger-wag. And, even after all providing so much intellectual exercise, F for Fake is just plain fun to watch, especially when Welles begins to pull back the curtain on his own trickery along the way.

F for Fake is available for purchase on DVD, or to rent from Netflix, but can also be streamed via HuluPlus on any compatible device or through the embedded player below the cut.

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