Orson Welles John Coleman - Essay

John Coleman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Along] comes Orson Welles, with his finest sherry-selling voice, and he messes about arrogantly with the medium and one somehow doesn't mind. This is partly, of course, because he has taken fake, deception, fraud or what you will as his brief. Like a crooked advocate, he pretends to delve into serious matters (the nature of illusion, the assassination of honesty) while roguishly having himself a high time. F for Fake is mainly a very successful commercial for Welles. I'll buy….

[The film] is a small triumph of editing, as well as a running commentary on film legerdemain. Welles, mostly in his stage conjuror's outfit of black hat and cape, converts a key into coins and back again at the outset for a kid, later plays games with a body suspended in air, as if his largest offer is to be trick-sorcery, before and amid settling down to unsettling us via an editola and the liberal use of rich brown voice-over. He delivers an early warning that he'll be honest for an hour: and the weakest segment of this fantastic compilation is, in fact, when he overruns this—with some matter of a gorgeous, recurrent Yugoslav chick called Oja Kodar whom Picasso is supposed to have painted 24 times …: all lies, obviously, but unfortunately spelt out as such, spoiling what pleasure might have emerged from our recognition of the imposition.

Fun comes in marginalia, which might comfortably have been the final title for [the] film…. It is agreeable to witness this master, happily not past, of chicanery in such high spirits.

John Coleman, "All's Welles," in New Statesman (© 1976 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 92, No. 2383, November 19, 1976, p. 724.