Orson Welles isn't particularly well known as being a documentarian. For one thing, he was such a singular weirdo that even this 1972 film—a "documentary essay," as he put it, and the last feature Welles finished before his 1982 death—works less as a narrative infofest than an odd, affecting meditation on the nature of trickery in the film, book, and art worlds. For another, F for Fake has long been one of Welles' most obscure movies—which, considering the scattered nature of his filmography, is saying something.
This scrumptious Criterion edition should remedy that. The movie itself takes as its ostensible subject the intertwined cases of Elmyr de Hory, the notorious art forger who lived on the Spanish island of Ibiza and faked paintings by nearly every major artist of the 20th century (Picasso, Matisse, Renoir), and his biographer, Clifford Irving. Irving was apparently so inspired by his subject that he embarked on a grand hoax of his own: writing a phony "autobiography" of notoriously reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes, for which Irving wound up serving 17 months in federal prison.
This is rich stuff by itself—and if you want a straightforward account of de Hory's life, or of Irving's case, the set's second disc, containing Almost True, a documentary about de Hory from 1992, and Irving's 2002 appearance on 60 Minutes, will sate your interest. But Welles, typically, wasn't about to leave well enough alone. He turns F for Fake into a kind of tone poem that mocks professional expertise (a subject close to the filmmaker's heart, given the studio meddling he endured) and parallels his own career with those of de Hory and Irving. After all, who better to comment on how to fool a nation than the man behind the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast. And just as Welles isn't content to show us the trickery without revealing its machinations, the film has a few delicious structural surprises up its sleeve as well. Like most good tricks, F for Fake is exceptionally entertaining.
THE SAME CANNOT be said of Vin Diesel in The Pacifier, which arrived June 28 along with the far superior 1962 The Three Stooges Meet Hercules. A '70s favorite Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry also finally reaches DVD, as does the Japanese manga flick Tetsuo: The Iron Man. There's also the Holocaust doc Gray Matter (about Nazi mad scientists), the music doc Low in Europe (about the Minnesota slow-core band), and tribute doc The Divine Bette Midler, for her devoted fans. The pick of the week would have to be the Gulf War documentary Gunner Palace.