Updated: July 2, 2013 6:29AM
In his just-published book “The Best Film You’ve Never Seen” (Chicago Review Press), Sun-Times editor Robert K. Elder talks with 35 directors, including Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright and Richard Linklater, about movies that have been lost or overlooked.
In a cover blurb, Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert praised the project, writing: “How necessary this book is! And how well judged and written! Some of the best films ever made, as Elder proves, are lamentably all but unknown.”
In this excerpt, director Henry Jaglom (“Tracks”) champions Orson Welles’ “F for Fake” (1973). Jaglom, Welles’ friend and sometime collaborator, calls this mix of fact and fiction “the most autobiographical” of Welles’ films.
Q. Describe “F for Fake” to someone who has never seen it.
Jaglom: It’s a film about a painter, Elmyr de Hory, who paints copies of the great masters and passes them off as authentic — and about a writer, Clifford Irving, who is doing a book about this painter. Later in life, Irving wrote a book he claimed was the autobiography of Howard Hughes, which in fact was a fake, and he ended up in jail because of it. Ultimately, it is about the creative act and the confession that all creative acts are fraudulent. I think it’s one of the greatest films never seen.
Q. Is it just filmmakers who are liars that tell the truth, or is it that, at some level, all artists feel vaguely fraudulent?
Jaglom: Well, you’re making something up, you’re telling a lie and you’re trying to get the audience to believe it as if it were real.
You remember early in the movie Orson says, “During the next hour, everything you hear from us is really true!” And then he shows his girlfriend, his real-life lover of 25 years, Oja Kodar, having an affair with Picasso. And I was shocked! I didn’t know she had an affair with him .... so it’s a tremendous kind of confession from a magician. Orson loved magic. Magic is fakery.
Q. How did you first see it?
Jaglom: Orson showed it to me, in his house, on the video. I just fell in love with it; I thought it was sensational. Orson considered it his greatest accomplishment, and I said, “Why?”
He said, “Because I found a way to beat the process. I made a film for no money.”
And he thought that everybody was going to acclaim it, and he’d be set for the rest of his life. It never even got distribution. He was more dejected by that than by any of the other things that happened in the other films. He really thought that he created a whole new form. It is the film as the ultimate confessional as he shows us all of these boxes within boxes of people being fakes. It is a confession of a filmmaker who essentially — like all filmmakers, storytellers, and artists — is a fake. It is the most autobiographical of Orson’s films, for me.
Q. Some of the first spoken dialogue is “Why not? I’m a charlatan.” Welles liked to cast himself as a magician — and you cast him as a magician in “Someone to Love.”
Jaglom: He was a magician, and I like using people for the essence of what they are. That’s what he was: He was a fraud. He was a magician who felt like he could no longer do his magic. He felt like he was a failed magician.
Q. Did Orson have a full awareness of that, his public persona?
Jaglom: I would kick Orson under the table at lunch when somebody would come over to the table, and he would do this Orson Welles thing that would scare the [heck] out of them. And I would kick him. He called me his “Jewish conscience.” He would say, “I don’t need my Jewish conscience kicking me under the table.”
He wanted to hide. He didn’t think he was sufficient. That’s why he put on this act that he finally got trapped behind. When you see “Someone to Love,” you see him as he really is, as if you had lunch with him. He was such a sweet and open and unintimidating man.
When he did “Someone to Love,” his final film, I finally got him to take off the mask.
Q. What specific lessons did you learn from “F for Fake”?
Jaglom: It reinforces a great lesson Orson gave to me in my life. As I’m talking to you, it’s over my editing machine. Every day, I come in here to edit my movie, and there it is: “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”
He said it to me one day at lunch, and it’s the most valuable thing anybody has ever said to me. It means simply that if you have no limitations, if you have all the money in the world, all the time, you can create a lot of things, but it’s not about art. You can get special effects, you can get great production ... but if you don’t have it, if you’re limited in money or time, you’re forced to be creative, to find a creative solution and an artistic answer to a question. That’s exemplified for me, more than anything, in the great work that is “F for Fake.”
It just reinforced, tremendously, that film is a magic place where you can do anything, and you should not be bound by any rules.
Excerpted with permission from The Best Film You’ve Never Seen ($16.95), to be published in June by Chicago Review Press, and available at Amazon.com.