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Watch: Orson Welles, ‘F for Fake,’ and the Art of the Video Essay

Watch: Orson Welles, 'F for Fake,' and the Art of the Video Essay

I was 22 when I first saw Orson Welles’ ‘F for Fake.’ Some hipper friends and I were sprawled out on the floor of someone’s dorm room. It was probably a Sunday night, when everyone had more purpose-driven things to do, but we had taken time out to watch this film. Why? Because it was wonderful, of course. And you had to watch it. It was essential Welles, made all the more essential by the fact that few people had seen it. I had seen ‘Citizen Kane,’ of course. And ‘Macbeth.’ And even ‘The Trial.’ (A great match of director to subject, if ever there was one.) But not ‘F for Fake,’ a speculation on the life of a famous forger, which transformed, or at least deepened, my thinking on Welles; the films I had watched previously as unquestionable institutions now seemed to me to be animate, near-living creations, the products of a restless, idiosyncratic mind, exemplary in its curiosity and dissatisfaction. Tony Zhou’s most recent video essay uses this film to explain how one builds and structures a video essay–and he gets some help from, of all people, Trey Parker, who memorably suggests that when one is telling a story, the next word after each plot event must either be “therefore” or “but.” The film seems to have helped Zhou developed a working method (ars cinematica?); he reminds us, rather firmly, that video essays, playful though they may sometimes be, are films, and they have to be structured and built as tightly as longer features. As with all of Zhou’s Every Frame a Painting videos, this one is highly educational about the art of film watching and film reading, but, as always, the highly complex insights are affably deployed.

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