Under the Influence

Morgan Neville Goes Through the Looking Glass with F for Fake

Visual Analysis — Jan 23, 2019

With his latest movie, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville trained his focus on one of cinema history’s most outsize personalities. The film—released just months after Neville’s Fred Rogers profile Won’t You Be My Neighbor? won over both critics and audiences—picks up with Orson Welles toward the end of his career, chronicling his fifteen-year struggle to make The Other Side of the Wind, a would-be comeback (itself about a fictional filmmaker’s would-be comeback) that he never ultimately finished. Neville’s briskly entertaining and formally inventive portrait of the master, available on Netflix alongside the version of The Other Side of the Wind completed by the streaming service last year, often plays as an homage to Welles, with Alan Cumming’s narration evoking the director’s own arch voiceover in F for Fake. And as Neville explains in the latest installment of our series Under the Influence, his love for that fiendishly clever 1975 quasi documentary does indeed run deep.

Raised in a movie-mad household, Neville first fell under Welles’s spell at the early age of ten, but it wasn’t until he was in his twenties, fresh out of college and working as a journalist, that he first happened upon F for Fake. It was “one of the films that got me really excited about what you could do with nonfiction storytelling,” he says about the movie that had a hand in his career change. A self-reflexive essay on art forger Elmyr de Hory, his equally untrustworthy biographer Clifford Irving, and Welles’s own deceits in the name of art, F for Fake is in Neville’s estimation a marvel of sly tone and “a tour de force of editing,” densely layering found footage and original material in a breezily postmodern testament to the very possibilities of the nonfiction form.

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