Orson Welles’ Long Lost ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ is a Fascinating Slice of Cinema History…and That’s It

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The filmmaking career of Orson Welles is filled with ambitious projects that were either unrealized or abandoned. This doesn’t even count the films that Welles finished that were then taken from him in the editing process. Portions of Welles’ Don Quixote and The Merchant of Venice were completed before financial issues caused them to be abandoned. Money was always an issue for Welles after he was exiled from the studio system. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Welles hyped up his new big movie, The Other Side of the Wind, which would see the cinematic mind behind Citizen Kane taking on a new stylistically ambitious project. For years, Welles filmed portions of the movie, stopping at times to attain more funding. Though the footage was in the can, it was an entirely different beast for Welles to edit the film, only finishing a portion of the film before a legal dispute with the financiers and, believe it or not, the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran resulted in the film being vaulted.

By the time Welles had died in 1985, The Other Side of the Wind was still in post-production purgatory. Even after Welles’ death, there were numerous legal obstacles to finishing the film. Welles’ friend and colleague Peter Bogdanovich, who also has a role in the film, helped spearhead an attempt to gather financing to finish The Other Side of the Wind. Amazingly, all of the legal hurdles have been overcome. The film was edited together with Netflix backing the completion of the film. Unfortunately, The Other Side of the Wind is more a historical document that is fascinating for admirers of Orson Welles but it’s not a good movie.

Though Welles himself would claim that The Other Side of the Wind wasn’t autobiographical, it’s impossible not to see the similarities between the famed writer, actor, and director and his onscreen counterpart Jake Hannaford (played by the great actor and director John Huston). A prickly and uncompromising director, Jake Hannaford is poised to make his great return with his own new artistic endeavor, also titled The Other Side of the Wind. After the day’s shooting has wrapped and Hannaford has alienated his leading man John Dale (Robert Random), the director and his entourage, which includes his protégé Brooks Otterlake (Bogdanovich), many others, and a film crew, travel to an estate for a party and screening of the unfinished film. Throughout the party, Hannaford is confronted with his own complicated legacy and as he gets more and more intoxicated his mean streak comes to the surface, further driving a wedge between himself and his closest friends and colleagues.

Welles was really swinging for the fences with The Other Side of the Wind. The movie within the movie is Welles attempting a kind of foreign art film, a practically plotless exercise where Random’s John Dale and the unnamed actress played by Oja Kodar wander around each other in picturesque landscapes and hollowed out movie studios with a sexual tension. The story of Hannaford, on the other hand, is the more stylistically ambitious one, with Welles blending a narrative with improvisation and an aesthetic that is rooted more in documentary-styled cinema verité.

The problem is that these two disparate visions never cohere into a compelling film over the two-hour running time. Granted, the film has a great look thanks to the cinematography by Gary Graver. The problem is the film’s editing. To be clear, this isn’t the fault of anyone involved in the film. After all, how do you edit nearly a 100 hours of footage when you’re acclaimed director has been dead for over 30 years? Another problem is that Welles left behind a lot of footage and they must’ve felt some obligation to include as much as possible. All of these factors create a huge question mark over the film as viewers are left to wonder if this is how Welles would’ve cut the film, and that disjointed feel to the film is especially noticeable as it runs a solid two hours.

John Huston is fantastic as the boozy and crude director. His grizzled face and deep booming voice lend a credibility to the character’s haggard persona. Equally good opposite Huston is Peter Bogdanovich, who is basically playing a version of himself. Bogdonvich’s Brooks Otterlake is a one-time biographer of Hannaford turned director whose work now overshadows his former mentor’s. It’s a dynamic that mirror’s Bogdanovich’s relationship to Welles in the later years of the director’s life. For all the various character dynamics at play in the film – and there are many – this one is the most effective. It’s also fascinating to see some long lost work from some long gone actors, including Dennis Hopper, Paul Stewart, Cameron Mitchell, Susan Strasberg, Stafford Repp, and Edmond O’Brien.

I’m grateful that Peter Bogdanovich, Frank Marshall, the team at Netflix, and others put so much time and effort to get The Other Side of the Wind completed and out there. It’s not as good as it had the potential to be but it’s a fascinating document of cinema history. The tragedy is that Welles never got to complete his vision and we’re left with this noble attempt that falls short as a completed film. So many film lovers were left to wonder what lied within The Other Side of the Wind. After decades of wondering we’ve finally gotten an answer – mostly.

The Other Side of the Wind
  • Overall Score
2.5

Summary

One of Orson Welles’ unfinished projects, The Other Side of the Wind was finally completed after decades of languishing in legal battles but the finished film lacks a cohesive vision and is more a fascinating historical document than a good movie.

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One Response

  1. Nic Ciccone November 4, 2018 Reply

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