Monday, May 02, 2005

It Came From Netflix! F For Fake

Orson Welles’ last finished film was this extremely fun, typically puckish and brilliant sorta-documentary—director/film historian Peter Bogdonivich refers to it as an essay in the interview included with the movie—recently released as part of the invaluable Criterion Collection.
Basically, it’s a stitched together creation made of pieces of other, uncompleted films. Welles tragically had trouble gaining enough funds to complete projects, going back to a version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness that would have been his third movie. While he was in South America starting the film, RKO hacked up his masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons, and consigned the removed footage to the furnace, so that Welles couldn’t try to do anything about it. The movie still failed at the box office.

(The second disc in the F For Fake DVD set features a 90 minute film on Welles’ unfinished works. I haven’t rented that disc yet.)

Welles had been working on a documentary about a real-life art forger and the author, Clifford Irving, who wrote a book exposing him. However, things then took a bizarre turn when Irving himself subsequently was guilty of forging a faked ‘autobiography’ of then nutty recluse Howard Hughes. This was a huge story for a while.

In the end, Welles decided to incorporate the shot footage into a longer work about charlatans, mountebanks and fakers, in which group he definitely includes himself. Welles narrates and appears throughout the film, often performing magic. (He was, among many talents, a successful stage magician.) This is the later Welles, hugely fat, striding around in his trademark black fedora and cape (!), puffing on a cigar the size of a piano leg and obviously having a blast. You can tell the man loved making films, and much of the pleasure the film affords the viewer is knowing that its making brought the often-disappointed Welles so much joy.

Highly recommended.


At 2:19 PM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

I'll have to hunt this one down. Welles was always one of my favorite directors. Even in its butchered form, Magnificent Ambersons is still brilliant.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Yes, in fact, you have to wonder what the uncut version was like? Better than Kane? It's possible.

Amazon sells it about as cheap as anyone, for $28 including p&h. Netflix rents it, but if you want to rent the extras disc also, you have to check to the right of the main disc's page, and click on "Bonus Materials Available Separately". It's not the most elegent set-up.

At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welles also did some incredible radio work -- for a while, he was so busy in live radio that he had a car painted to look like an ambulance to take him between two studios.

At the time, this was apparently legal in New York.

--John Nowak

At 6:02 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

From what I've read, it actually was an ambulance, taking him from Mercury to the Shadow.

His Shadow is still the best one, though the recordings extant are all rather dire in condition.

As for Ambersons, in my opinion, it's greater than Kane, even butchered. I've never seen a movie which not only detailed the fall of a family, but the rise of modernism with such cutting detail. Where Kane was about one man and the folks who surrounded him, Ambersons takes on the world.

That may make it sound boring and pretentious, but believe me, it's neither.


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