F for Fake, Orson Welles's final feature, is one of the coolest movies I've ever seen, a marvelous marriage of fiction and non-fiction, a study of the value of art and the validity of the artmaker, conjured by a man totally confident and in charge of his medium. Welles, a filmmaker/charlatan, is as much a character in F for Fake as its other subjects, painter/forger Elmyr de Hory and writer/hoaxster Clifford Irving. These were men who captivated people by sleights of hand. And in case we forgot how Welles got his start, the man himself reminds us: "In my past there aren't any Picassos. My next flight in fancy was by flying saucer."
In terms of documentary-as-thesis, Orson Welles paved the way for Michael Moore. Both men, weighty in opinion and girth, are the stars of their documentaries. But while Moore traffics in contempt for his subjects, Welles is all about wonder. His fascination with truth and lies -- and art, which links them -- vibrates from the screen (this is aided in no small fashion by the editing, which is sublime and deserving of its own dissertation). Netflix F for Fake today. I leave you with a bit of Wellesian narration.
Reality is the toothbrush waiting at home for you in its glass. A bus ticket. A paycheck. And the grave. In the right mood perhaps, Elmyr has just as few regrets as I have to have been a charlatan. But we're not so proud either of us as to lay any superior claim to being very much worse than the rest of you. ... What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I believe the pompous word for that is "art." Picasso himself said it. "Art," he said, "is a lie, a lie that makes us realize the truth."
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