I watched it this afternoon. It starts with a conjuring trick. Welles presdigitates for a small boy on a railway station, addressing him with sherry-soaked reverence as "Sir". The coin turns into a key turns into a coin turns into key turns into lots of coins. Is that what happened? I don't quite remember; it all moved so fast. Then Welles in the station steps against a white screen and when the camera pulls back he's stood somewhere else entirely. There must have been a cut in there that I missed...
The whole film is like this.
It 's an essay on art and authenticity. The cast includes the wonderfully camp Elmyr de Hory, forger of modernist masterpieces and Clifford Irving who wrote a book about Elmyr and then perpetrated a hoax of his own by forging the memoirs of Howard Hughes and Oja Kodar, Welles' girlfriend, as a woman of mystery who perpetrates a hoax on Picasso and, of course, Welles himself, wandering in and out of the story-or stories- puffing his cigar, waxing poetic over Chartres cathedral and eating enormous dinners. It's labyrinthine and strange and wonderful - one of those movies where almost anything could happen next and frequently does- Welles' final masterpiece.
I have no patience with those who say Welles went downhill after Kane and Ambersons. On the contrary I think he got better and better; it's just that he was thwarted a lot. There are a lot of mutilated torsos among the later movies- all of which are wonderful in some way or other- but F For Fake is miraculously complete, uncompromised, unbotched, exactly the way Welles planned it to be. He spent a full year in the editing suite. And Welles in the editing suite is like Bach at the keyboard- the ultimate master. Clever doesn't begin to cover it. What can cinema do? This is what cinema can do.
And now can we please have a disc of the Immortal Story and the release in some version- any version- I don't care how raggedy it is- of The Other Side Of The Wind.