All’s Well That Ends Welles: Orson’s Slippery Sleight of Hand


Simultaneously slapdash and Borgesian, Orson Welles’s late-career nonfiction board game of a movie may be, by ordinary standards, the most off-putting, coy, and self-satisfied object the man ever created. (It first saw festival showings in 1974.) But it’s also a film that creates its own scale of experience, a sleight-of-hand exercise that asks unanswerable questions of itself even as it presents perfectly obvious mysteries before us. Beginning with footage from a BBC doc, Welles dances around art forger Elmyr de Hory, his lying biographer/Howard Hughes scamster Clifford Irving, Hughes’s duplicitous intercourse with the world, and the filmmakers’ own canard-filled biography; accepted notions of authenticity, fakery, experthood, aesthetic value, and narrative are not only debunked but redefined.

This two-disc Criterion release is virtually an archival seminar about F for Fake—fittingly so for a film consumed with winking self-regard—including the legendary nine-minute trailer (which neglected to mention Welles’s name), co-conspiratorial audio commentary by Welles mistress Oja Kodar and producer Gary Graver, multiple documentaries and TV specials about de Hory and Irving, the actual by-telephone Hughes press conference decrying Irving’s autobiography hoax in 1972, and a 1995 assemblage of Welles scraps and iconic moments, cobbled together in an explicit imitation of F for Fake. Sadly, all of the supplements appear to be genuine.

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