F for Fake: Orson Welles’ Short Film & Trailer That Was Never Released in America

Ask Orson Welles enthu­si­asts to name the film­mak­er’s mas­ter­piece, and most will, of course, name Cit­i­zen Kane. While Welles’ very first fea­ture film may lay cred­i­ble claim to the title of not just the finest in his oeu­vre but the finest film ever made, a grow­ing minor­i­ty of dis­senters have, in recent years, plumped for his last: 1974’s F for Fake. Too truth­ful to call a fic­tion film and too filled with lies to call a doc­u­men­tary, it brings togeth­er such seem­ing­ly dis­parate themes as author­ship, authen­tic­i­ty, art forgery, archi­tec­ture, and girl-watch­ing into what Welles him­self thought of as “a new kind of film,” but which cinephiles might now con­sid­er an “essay film,” a form exem­pli­fied by the works of, to name a well-known pro­po­nent, La jetee and Sans soleil direc­tor Chris Mark­er.

Alas, Welles revealed F for Fake in 1974 to an unready world: audi­ences did­n’t quite under­stand it, and what dis­trib­u­tors showed inter­est in buy­ing it did­n’t quite offer enough mon­ey. The fea­ture final­ly came out in Amer­i­ca in 1976, and for the occa­sion Welles put togeth­er the nine-minute “trail­er,” nev­er actu­al­ly screened in a the­ater, at the top of the post, a short essay film in and of itself pos­sessed of a sim­i­lar style to but con­sist­ing of no footage from the full-length F for Fake. As with the pic­ture to which it osten­si­bly offers a pre­view, Welles made it in col­lab­o­ra­tion with B‑movie cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Gary Graver and his girl­friend Oja Kodar — the one you see pos­ing with the tiger — hop­ing to tan­ta­lize with a sug­ges­tion of the dance of truth and fal­si­ty the film does around such sto­ried fig­ures as Pablo Picas­so, Howard Hugh­es, and infa­mous art forg­er Elmyr de Hory.

In the clip after that, you can hear film­mak­er (and some­thing of a Boswell for Welles) Peter Bog­danovich briefly dis­cuss the ori­gin of F for Fake as well as the film’s sheer unusu­al­ness. “My favorite moment is when he talks about Chartres, this extra­or­di­nary cathe­dral of Chartres which nobody knows who designed, how its author­ship is anony­mous and he con­nects that to the whole idea of author­ship and fak­ery.” That sequence from the full movie appears just above; just below, have anoth­er taste in the form of one of its pas­sages on Picas­so, fea­tur­ing Kojar as the artist’s osten­si­ble for­mer mis­tress. Seem strange? Take Bog­danovich’s words to heart: “If you get on the film’s wave­length and lis­ten to what he’s say­ing and what what he’s doing, it’s riv­et­ing. It takes you along through the rhythm of the cut­ting, and of Orson­’s per­son­al­i­ty. If you fight it, and you expect it to be a lin­ear kind of thing, then you’re not going to enjoy it.”

You can find more short films by Orson Welles in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Eight Inter­views of Orson Welles by Film­mak­er Peter Bog­danovich (1969–1972)

Orson Welles Explains Why Igno­rance Was His Major “Gift” to Cit­i­zen Kane

Dis­cov­er the Lost Films of Orson Welles

Orson Welles Tells Some Damn Good Sto­ries in the Orson Welles’ Sketch Book (1955)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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