F for Fake

F for Fake. 1975.

  • Director: Orson Welles
  • Duration: 85 minutes
  • Genre: documentary
Synopsis: In the film 'F for Fake', the legendary director Orson Welles deeply analyzes the art and the falsehood moving around him. On the central figures of the famous forger Elmyr de Hory and his biographer Clifford Irving, Welles makes a recreation about the "big fake" of the history as Howard Hughes or himself who began his career causing panic by announcing a false alien attack. With this film, Orson Welles raises fascinating questions like what is art, in what consists and where stands the dividing line between "real art" of "fake art".


During the late sixties, the French director François Reichenbach traveled to Ibiza to film a report about the paintings forger Elmyr de Hory, who had just won a great popularity with the publication of his biography ‘Fake’. ‘The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time ‘(1969) was written by American Clifford Irving, who also lived on the island.

The title of the documentary filmed by Reichenbach is ‘Elmyr. The True Picture?’ (1970), and although it was initially made for a number of French TV networks about counterfeiters, it was finally aired on the second channel of the BBC in a weekly art program called ‘Review’ on May 30, 1970.

Orson Welles watched ‘Review’ that day, and excited, he contacted Reichenbach and proposed to make a new version of ‘Elmry. The True Picture?’. Welles and Reichenbach knew eachother since 1967, back when the French director made a report about the author of ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941).

The provisional title of this cooperation between the two directors was ‘Elmry’ and it would be a new production directed by Welles and shot by Reichenbach for ‘Elmyr. The True Picture?’.

However, in 1971 and 1972 two events happened that made Welles focus the project differently, distancing himself from Reichenbach. In 1971, the influential film critic Pauline Kael published an essay that challenged the creative contribution of the script of Welles ‘Citizen Kane’, one of the most important films of the cinema history. The other incident occurred in early 1972, when the writer Clifford Irving was accused of falsifying the contents of his new book, entitled ‘Autobiography of Howard Hughes’ (1971), which according to Irving, had been drafted with the help of Hughes.

Following this scandal, Welles decided to give more importance to the figure of Irving in his new film, which no longer would about one forger but two: Hory and Irving. Also, Pauline Kael’s attack prompted the US director to vindicate the montage of the film as the most important and characteristic element of cinematic art.

This way, ‘Elmyr’ gave way to ‘F for Fake’, also known as ‘Question Mark’, ‘Nothing but the Truth’ or ‘?’, and distributed in Spain as ‘Fraude’. In this important documentary, Orson Welles reflects on the figure of the art creator, exploring with pride and in an overwhelming way the creative possibilities of creation, in this case using a collage, drawings from various materials, thus demonstrating the decisive role of shaping the cinematographic work.

Comment written by Enrique Villalonga, head of production studio Filmótica.


Riambau, Esteve. Orson Welles: Una España inmortal. Filmoteca Española y Filmoteca de la Generalitat Valenciana, 1993.



  • Producer SACI (Iran), Les Films de l’Astrophore (France) y Janus Film und Fernsehen (Germany)
  • Director Orson Welles
  • Photography Gary Graver y Christian Odasso
  • Edition Marie-Sophie Dubus y Dominique Engerer
  • Music Michel Legrand
  • Sound designer Paul Bertault
  • Casting Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, François Reichenbach, Joseph Cotten, Richard Wilson, Paul Stewart, Alexander Welles, Gary Graver, Andrés Vicente Gómez, Julio Palinkas, Christian Odasso, Françoise Widhoff, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Laurence Harvey y Nina van Pallandt