F for Fake (French: Vérités et mensonges, “Truths and lies”) is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory’s recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory’s story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering investigation of the natures of authorship and authenticity, as well as the basis of the value of art. Loosely a documentary, the film operates in several different genres and has been described as a kind of film essay.
Far from serving as a traditional documentary on Elmyr de Hory, the film also incorporates Welles’s companion Oja Kodar, notorious “hoax-biographer” Clifford Irving, and Orson Welles himself, in an autobiographical role.
F for Fake is often judged as a masterpiece of the art of film editing — a key subject of the film itself, which at many points shows Welles sitting at his editing desk as he narrates. Welles and his assistants worked on the final cut for an entire year, working seven days a week—shots are rapidly intercut almost by the second throughout, lending the film a quick-paced touch. One of the examples considered to be among the best is a series of near wordless shots of Irving and de Hory seemingly in debate as to whether de Hory ever signed his forgeries (the shots of Irving and de Hory were in fact taken at different times). Some have even argued that after Citizen Kane, F for Fake is Welles’s most influential film, for it invented the MTV style of editing.
Welles’s autobiographical asides in the film reflect on his 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which caused a nationwide panic with its fake news broadcast. In introducing this chapter of his life, Welles declares his uncertainty as to his own authenticity, as he believes he too has engaged in fraud. Interestingly, while the basic facts of the War of the Worlds incident are correctly given, the apparent excerpts from the play featured in the movie are complete fabrications, including a scene in which President Roosevelt meets the Martian invaders—something which did not happen in the original (fabricated) broadcast.