A film review exclusively and originally written for The Lioness’ Den in December 2017.
Starring: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Clifford Irving, Elmyr de Hory, François Reichenbach, Joseph Cotten, Laurence Harvey
Director: Orson Welles
Writer: Orson Welles
Running Time: 1 hour, 19 minutes
Roar Rating: Three out of Five
Fakery and hoaxes have been part of our culture since the dawn of time. There has always been someone who’s trying to pull a fast one, pull the wool over someone’s eyes, or get them a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge. Marie Antoinette was the subject of a swindle known as The Affair of the Diamond Necklace, which did little to lessen the French people’s disdain for her from the very moment she married into the Bourbons, since she was eventually tried, convicted, and sent to the guillotine. Beginning in the early 1920’s following her hospitalization in a German asylum, Anna Anderson managed to convince much of the world she was Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaievna of Russia for 60 years before she was exposed as an impostor.
In his documentary F For Fake, Orson Welles delves into the stories of Clifford Irving and Elmyr de Hory, two men who perpetrated some of the biggest hoaxes of the 20th Century, becoming virtual poster children for falsehoods due to their nefarious deeds. These names won’t ring a bell to you right away, but their tall tales have carved them a place in history, though enrobed in controversy, like a foreign body trapped in amber.
We are introduced to the elderly de Hory, a man of leisure living in a home on the island of Ibiza, Spain. He had made much of his living as one of the most prolific art forgers, whose prowess was so great that famous galleries were unable to detect the differences for years. A book was written about him by Clifford Irving, who gained his own notoriety by having made up a professional relationship and correspondence with the highly reclusive and eccentric Howard Hughes for a fictitious biography.
Throughout the film, Welles breaks the fourth wall as he skillfully articulates and demonstrates how seemingly easy it is to pull off a scam. However, Welles doesn’t simply uncover the severe shortcomings of these men. He delves into his own fakery through his life as an actor, starting with the 1939 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”, which sent the world into a panic over a supposed Martian invasion. Making an appearance was his former Citizen Kane costar Joseph Cotten and other members of his inner circle, but one prominently featured young lady was Oja Kodar, who I learned was having a relationship with a married Welles for many years.*** A stunning beauty who you think is merely eye candy for the movie was presented as integral to the plot line, particularly in a tale of an involvement with Pablo Picasso.
The interviews with Irving and de Hory frankly discussing their lives and journeys into these activities are interspersed with lightning fast cuts of them living the high life and hobnobbing with the glitterati of Europe. It’s the manner in which they justify their actions that will make your mouth gape open in disbelief: quite matter of factly, with an underlying air of bombast and arrogance. These men had such brilliant, talented minds. If only they used them for something positive.
If you’re expecting the type of magnificent, suspenseful epic that epitomized Orson Welles’ storied career, you’re in for a bit of a disappointment. I found the constant cuts, jumps, and changes in subject were more of a detriment to the film, and my interest waxed and waned throughout the duration. Yet the sheer brazenness of both Irving and de Hory is still compelling enough for anyone to conduct further research. What I gained from watching this film was the knowledge as to how they managed to pull their respective schemes off before inevitably getting caught, along with a strange admiration for de Hory (who assumed this name, go figure). If this movie is sitting in your DVR or rental queue, view it on a cold and rainy day, and prepare not to use too much of your brain.
*** Film credits, research, and other pertinent information according to The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) and Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org).