F for Fake (1974)

Is it art or con art? Is there a difference?

Is it art or con art? Is there a difference?

Does a documentary about fraud have to tell the truth? F for Fake is like a Three Card Monte game. Welles acts as the dealer promising the audience that their is validity to claims he’s about to make, that the stories he tells are real. He’s asking us to keep our eyes on the ace, but the film’s editing is rapid, almost dizzying. Images and information shuffle by at a phenomenal rate.  Orson Welles’ narration sounds like a guiding voice, providing context, background details, and insight, but like a magician, or as he prefers to call himself, a charlatan, his voice is really a distraction to keep us from discovering the truth. We lose sight of the ace (the truth). We get hypnotized by the rapid movement of the cards (images). It’s movie magic, it’s a magic trick. The trick being to engross the audience to the point that they believe everything you say.

It’s the promise of the documentary filmmaker to tell the truth. Welles appears to break this promise, he pulls a fast one, or does he? Welles starts the film off with a promise that implicitly says he will only tell the truth, up to a point. Can he be faulted for an audience that forgets this confession? Can he be faulted for an audience who doesn’t keep their on on the clock? Then again, who watches’ the clock whilst their head is swimming in such a grand tale of forgery. It’s just like Three Card Monte. If you take your eye off the ace, you are bounded to get taken for a sucker.


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