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Written by Timothy Sexton
"Ladies and gentleman, by way of introduction, this is a film about trickery and fraud, about lies."
What an intro, huh? This truly is the introduction to the film, but more than that it is a warning. Because, after all, what kind of film that proposes to be all about trickery, fraud and lies would not itself engage in a bit of a trickery, fraud and lies itself? This quote the viewer into letting down their defenses in the expectation that for a change they will be told the truth since, after all, what follows has the structure of a documentary rather than a narrative fiction.
“During the next hour, everything you'll hear from us is really true and based on solid facts.”
So few words…so much significance. As the opening line quoted above indicates, this is a film about fraud. The deadpan delivery of Orson Welles will give a heads-up to those familiar with the man’s work that everything may not necessarily be true or based on solid facts. You might also not want to set your agenda according to Orson’s estimation of the running time left from this point.
“I started at the top and have been working my way down ever since.”
Orson is being truthful yet also disingenuous here. He is referring to the fact that the first film he directed was Citizen Kane which has gone on to be widely and consistently viewed as the greatest movie ever made. What direction is there to go but down from such an accomplishment? In fact, a great many film experts have issued dissenting opinions from the mainstream by situating later films directed by Welles such as The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil and Chimes at Midnight as being superior to Citizen Kane.
"What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I'm afraid the pompous word for that is `art'."
The strange thing here is that Welles, for a change, is being entirely sincere and insincere at the same time. Art, no matter how much you slice and dice semantics, is exactly what Plato accused it of being: a pale representation of perfect reality capable of confusing people. And yet, at the same time, art is also very much a truth because how can a subjective representation of anything be a lie? This is there the confusion creeps in.
“Cliff Irving's caper may well be the hoax of the century.”
This assertion makes absolutely no sense unless you know who Clifford Irving is and what he did to become famous. For a brief period of time, Clifford Irving truly was one of the most famous men in the world. And then, later on, he became even more famous. The first bout of fame came as a result of the attention he received for having been the writer that ultra-reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes chose to ghostwrite his autobiography. The level of fame rose substantially upon the public denunciation of Irving by Hughes and the subsequent admission that the memoirs had all been nothing but a huge hoax.
“All the world loves to see the experts and the establishment made a fool of.”
Perhaps the only absolutely, 100-percent true statement made in the movie. And few would know this better than the man who made a fool of many who should have known better.
“Experts are the new oracles.”
This was certainly true in 1973. In the 21st century it is so true that it should become America’s new national motto. The problem, of course, is that experts possess no more expertise beyond all question now than they did then.
“For the past seventeen minutes, I've been lying my head off.”
No kidding. He really does say this. And after more than an hour has passed since the film commenced.
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