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DVD Review: F For Fake/Intervista

By Glenn Abel

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photo File "F for Fake" under truth in advertising. After all, this is not a real Orson Welles movie -- at least not in the sense of "Touch of Evil," or even "The Magnificent Ambersons."

Welles took an unfinished documentary shot by someone else, tacked on some hocus-pocus at the beginning and end, mixed in spicy footage of his mistress and called it his latest movie.

A scam perpetrated by an aging director no longer able to realize his own projects? Maybe so. The revenge of an artist tormented by critics? Almost certainly.

And since the 1972 movie turned out to be a head-spinning piece of modern video art -- a work clearly ahead of its time -- does the self-proclaimed charlatan who put it together deserve the credit? In the end, only the film remains, so ... does it really matter how it was created?

Welcome to the philosophical fun house that is "F for Fake," stuffed full of questions about the nature of art and authorship, illusion and reality, lies and truth.

"Everything in this film is based on the available facts," a Big Brother-like intertitle assures the gullible. View the movie as one of the director's great works -- or just another Wellesian goof.

Criterion brings "Orson Welles's F for Fake" to DVD in a typically generous double-disc set (retail $39.95). Image quality varies, from the crisp scenes of narrator Welles wandering around in his cape to the grainy docu segments. (Most of the film is in color, unusual for Welles). The feature unspools in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. On surround sound set-ups, the DVD's strong mono audio roosts in the center speaker.

Disc 1 offers a 6-minute introduction by Welles' pal Peter Bogdonovich, who provides much-needed orientation.

"It's sort of like visual music," Bogdonovich says of the movie's dizzying quick-cut editing and narrative quantum leaps. "If you get on the film's wavelength ... it's riveting. If you fight it and expect it to be a linear thing, then you're not going to enjoy it."

It certainly helps if you're familiar with one of the movie's main subjects, Clifford Irving, whom Time magazine once dubbed "con man of the year." Irving claimed to have authored an autobiography of Howard Hughes, never expecting that the famous recluse -- or at least his voice -- would come out of hiding to expose the lie. The Irving-Hughes circus became one of the biggest stories of the 1970s, unfolding day-by-day as Welles made this film.

Irving learned his tricks at the feet of the brilliant art forgerer Elmyr de Hory, whose story takes up much of "F for Fake." The de Hory footage came from French documentary maker Fran¨ois Reichenbach, who gladly handed it over to the director of "Citizen Kane."

Welles, of course, was uniquely qualified to handle the intertwined stories of conmen de Hory and Irving, having perpetrated one of the century's great hoaxes, the radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds."

"We hanky-panky men have always been with you," Welles says, confiding in his audience.

Oja Kodar, the director's mistress and co-writer of "Fake," says the film is "not just about fakery, it's about Orson." Cameraman Gary Graver, who shares the DVD commentary with Kodar, says "Fake" is "as close as you'll get to the real Welles."

"Orson was really wounded by the critics," Graver says, explaining the film's repeated attacks on "experts."

The cameraman turns actor in the 9-minute trailer for "F for Fake," included on disc 1. More of a short film than ad, it was built around new footage shot by Welles. Graver says the trailer was similar in spirit to the famous preview for "Citizen Kane," which merrily concealed the film's dark tone. The "Fake" trailer's absurd length and nude shots of Kodar ensured rejection from the U.S. distributor.

On disc 2, the 1995 docu "Orson Welles: The One Man Band" spends an hour and a half profiling the director in his final years. It's shot in the style of "F for Fake" and produced by Kodar, who appears throughout.

The docu, in English and German, follows Welles around the globe as he attempts to finish his many projects, all rejected by Hollywood and its financiers.

"In Los Angeles, everyone only talks about 'crazy old Welles.' ... I must start over from scratch," the onetime prodigy sighed.

The docu shows extended clips from the director's aborted projects, among them "The Merchant of Venice," the thriller "The Deep" and the wrapped but unedited "The Other Side of the Wind." Most look like decent but unreleasable student films. There are broad comedy bits starring the old man, some kind of funny.

Irving has his say in a "60 Minutes 2" interview broadcast in 2000. It reunites him with CBS reporter Mike Wallace, to whom he lied like a dog on a 1972 segment of "60 Minutes." They seem like pals.

The documentary "Almost True," from 1997, takes a straightforward look at the life and antics of forgerer de Hory. Informative, but a stiff compared with "Fake."

The DVD set wraps with an audio record of Howard Hughes' press conference on Irving's hoax, in which reporters gathered around a speakerphone to hear the tycoon's ghostly voice reveal its truths.

Federico Fellini broke through all the walls he could find in 1987's delightfully jumbled "Intervista." The maestro created a film about a film about a film.

There is, not surprisingly, a film about all those films, the Italian documentary "The Man From Rimini," included on Koch Lorber's DVD release of "Intervista" (retail $29.98). The leisurely docu runs an hour, subtitled.

"I don't really consider ('Intervista') a movie," Fellini tells the press as he hits the festival circuit. "It is a friendly chat among close friends."

Those friends are his collaborators at Rome's Cinecitta Studios, whose 50th anniversary inspired "Intervista." Fellini's film is a mockumentary of sorts, in which a Japanese TV crew arrives on the lot to interview the director, who tells them of his first visit to the studio as a young journalist. Fellini, meanwhile, is supposedly adapting Franz Kafka's "Amerika," rounding up the usual surreal suspects for his cast and riding out the productionÕs craziness.

Fellini notes there is "no subject and no screenplay" -- "Intervista" is "a movie made in total freedom." That may explain the Native Americans on horseback who attack his Italian crew, wielding TV antennas as spears.

The movie is best known for its scene with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg, sentimentally reunited to watch the Trevi Fountain scene from 1960Õs "La Dolce Vita." (Ekberg says Mastroianni didn't have much time for her on the "Intervista" set.)

Images are widescreen anamorphic (1.85:1), enhanced for 16x9 screens. The transfer looks good, with true flesh tones despite some grain. The "5.1 surround audio" stays front center. There is a long annoying stretch in which the sound suffers from a persistent popping sound. (Choices Inc. released a full-screen version of the title in 2001, with different extras.)

The disc includes a self-flipping collection of production photos.

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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