March 28, 2016

The thing lasts

F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1973). There have always been phonies, Welles suggests, what’s new are the experts who claim to know how to separate the true from the false, or the real from the fake. On one level, you can read F for Fake as Welles’ answer to the “expert” (Pauline Kael) who challenged his authorship of Citizen Kane and you can see that Welles shares infamous art forger Elmyr de Hory’s delight in proving the experts wrong, just as he and Oja Kodar enjoy fooling us with their story about Pablo Picasso, but the quiet centre of the film is the Chartres section, in which the cathedral, silhouetted like Xanadu in Citizen Kane, is a monument that transcends all the individuals who worked on it, in Welles’ remarkable monologue. In the end, he asks, why does the name of the artist matter? The thing lasts, names disappear. But is this humility, really, or is it actually the opposite? A story about anonymity comes with Welles’ visual signature, familiar from the opening of Citizen Kane, and the Welles voice-over now has an intimate seriousness that the rest of the jubilant, chaotic and enjoyably contradictory film otherwise overlooks in its rush to entertain and impress. Everything is a performance, or a trick, you suspect – seriousness as well as levity.