“You can’t handle the truth.” – ancient Chinese proverb
The Film: Orson Welles’ 1973 essay on truth, trickery, and tall tales
The Potable: Four Knob Creek highballs
Now it’s time for an introduction. Ladies and gentleman, by way of introduction, this is a review about confusion. Befuddlement. About brown liquor, and sartorial elegance. But we’ll get back to that last part later.
First, the film. Welles’ last completed feature, F for Fake shows the auteur at his most experimental. Not quite a documentary, Welles’ set out to create a “new kind of film.” That’s one narrative. Another is that Welles’ hijacked the project from Francois Reichenbach, who originally brought Welles’ on as an editor. Whatever the truth, these contradictory production details could themselves be a part of the film. Ostensibly focused on art forger Elmyr de Hory and his con artist biographer Clifford Irving, F for Fake switches gears constantly. It’s a six-speed, at least, and good lord am I drunk driving.
Every time I started to get a handle on this thing, a new storyline was introduced, a new tale of deceit. Houdinis, shysters, rascals and rogues. The Aviator is somehow involved, despite being released some 30 years after F for Fake. Who’s scamming who? Who’s the mark? Me, I fear.
Still, no matter how perplexed I became, one thread carried me through: the endlessly charismatic Welles, playing narrator and host. That baritone, that beard. The cocksure grin of an unrivaled raconteur. We watch him eat oysters in an Ibizan restaurant, an act ordinarily too disgusting to witness, but Welles slurps them down with grace. There is no story the man couldn’t sell. Five minutes with Orson and he could convince me Martians were invading, even knowing that he’s played that grift before.
What is it about him?
Fast forward now to Tuesday morning at Macy’s, where I was approached by an elderly shopkeep in a plum-colored cardigan. He asked if he could help me, sir. “What’s that, sir? Can you help me? Sir, I’m still looking.” He asked what, per chance, I was in search of, and I told him I was looking for something bold, something unique. I was looking, I said, for a cape.
He told me that Macy’s hasn’t sold male capes since 1954, and I said that a female’s would be fine so long as it was black. He said female capes were, unfortunately, also out of stock.
But! He raised a hand and bid me follow him to the home department. He zigzagged between beds, dipped among the crockery, and stopped before a fake window that looked out on a pair of cardboard children.
“Consider,” he said, running his arm along a charcoal-colored drape. “A mere modification and it’s yours.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thanks but no thanks.” I was nearly out the door, too, before I caught my boring reflection in a store mirror. I doubled back and paid $150 for the pair.
The shopkeep bagged one curtain and I insisted on wearing the other out, fastening the fabric around my neck with the drape cord. Sharp but a tad long, the cape slowed me down considerably as it dragged along the sidewalks of New York Avenue. I still managed to catch the 33 bus home, and received several compliments from my fellow commuters. To maintain my aura, I remained silent and merely nodded my thanks.
Was any part of this anecdote true? You’ll get no answer from me. We often find that trickery is more entertaining than truth. Tell it by a fireside, a marketplace, or in a movie, almost any story is some kind of lie. Would you begrudge me my own exaggerations?
Though I will say: If I did not purchase a cape, then why, dear reader, am I currently googling how to remove a honey mustard stain from velvet?
Verdict: F for Fashion