The jumping off point of this documentary/treatise on the art of deception is the American writer Clifford Irving’s 1969 book exposing a notorious art forger living on the Spanish party island of Ibiza named Elmyr De Hory. Irving is of course better known for the authorised biography of Howard Hughes that in turn later turned out to be completely fabricated, Irving himself outed as the same kind pf hoaxer he’d made his career exposing.
Producer, writer and narrator Orson Welles details the case through archive footage, interviews and himself filling in the blanks, sitting in a dark editing suite chuckling at the vagaries of fate and the turn of events that made the case stranger than fiction.
But his real intention is to comment on the very standpoint of the arts as one of deception through creating fictions no different than Iring did about Hughes, no different than Welles himself did after the infamous 1938 Martian Attack radio broadcast and his subsequent film career.
The film rambles off topic and uses everything from the staged conversations of a stageplay to the existing clips of a news broadcast to deliver Welle’s thesis; that when it comes to art, you can’t trust anybody — not even him for telling you what he knows.
At the beginning of the film he looks stoically into the camera and promises that everything you’ll hear over the next hour is true. Then, after the final, impossible-to-believe coda, he cheekily informs you that he kept his promise, but that for the previous 17 minutes since the hour ended he’s been lying his head off.
This is Welles when he seems to have finally and briefly found his place in the creative world, looking much more comfortable in his black hat and cape wandering the art galleries and cafes of Europe with intelligent young socialites than he ever did trying to make films in America.
After this he was reduced to (or perhaps it was part of the mystique nobody would ever fully grasp) ads for copiers, frozen peas and voiceover work for the animated Transformers movie from the early eighties, making F for Fake his artistic bow and in many ways his sharpest one ever.