Thoughts on “F for Fake” by Orson Welles

In response to the story of artist and art forger Elmyr de Hory and the writer that made him famous, Clifford Irving, Orson Welles’ “F for Fake” posts many questions about forgery, authorship, expertise and the value of art.

As Marshall McLuhan said: “The medium is the message”, film as a medium has always been effective in creating illusions and tricking audience into seeing things that are not actually happening, all for telling a better story.

Cure“,¬†Kyoshi Kurosawa’s psychological thriller from 1997, tells the story of a master hypnotizer who has the ability to trick people into committing gruesome murders without consciously being aware. While the story is about illusion, the film itself is also structured in a way to create illusions. Just as the audience think they are getting close to figuring out the truth, the plot turns and leads them into an even heavier mist of uncertainty.

Similar to “Cure”, “F for Fake” has also achieved this kind of unity in its form and content. By using various editing techniques such as montage, Welles managed to lead the audience into a world where the line between reality and fabrication is blurred. He even went a step further and created a made-up encounter between Oja Kodar and Pablo Picasso towards the end of the film.

In the BBC documentary “HyperNormalisation“, Adam Curtis gives out examples in history of governments manipulating media to fabricate “simple truths” in order to better control their people. One of the most memorable cases is the one with Colonel Gaddafi. In the film, Curtis, through a series of found footage, illustrates how the US government used Gaddafi to create a fake evil mastermind responsible for all terrorist attacks around the world. As said in the documentary, “truth becomes something you can just manipulate.”

Between de Hory’s art forgery, Welles’ made-up art story, Kurosawa’s hypnotizing storytelling and Gaddafi’s making of a super villain, what are the differences? Why should we care?

Like Kurosawa, Welles was using his artistic license to build a world of illusions to inspire and entertain his audience. The audience, when watching the films, have a basic understanding of the medium and know that they are leaving reality and entering a different space and time. They are not being deceived. De Hory, on the other hand, leaving out the discussion about the value of his art, was disguising his own paintings as those of more famous painters to approach buyers, attempting to manipulate people into believing a lie for his financial benefit. This kind of manipulation is a lot more damaging coming from people in authority and power. While de Hory’s high-fidelity fakes managed to stir the art world and embarrass experts and critics, the creation of Gaddafi as a terrorist mastermind, according to Curtis, managed to steer the public away from pursuing the truth, leaving deadly consequences and deeper, more complex political issues that even the most powerful governments in the world could not easily solve.


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