Orson Welles' latest film debuts — 30 years after director's death
The Other Side of the Wind is fascinating to discuss, but a lousy film. Though director Orson Welles has been dead for over 30 years, his film, which began production in 1970, had its premiere this year at the Venice Film Festival and made its way to Lincoln Center’s 56th New York Film Festival this month.
Incomplete reels of film sat untouched for years until Netflix bought the rights to Welles’ long-incomplete work and brought producers Filip Jan Rymsza, Frank Marshall and Peter Bogdanovich onboard to complete the final work by the famed director of Citizen Kane.
The entirety of the film takes place on a single day, the birthday of Jake Hannaford, an aging director played by John Huston. Accompanying him nearly throughout the film is Brooks Otterlake, a self-proclaimed “apostle” of Jake’s. Before the party and over the course of the celebration, a workprint of Jake’s new, incomplete, experimental film is shown. The film-within-a-film is also called The Other Side of the Wind.
A trailer released in August indicated something of a fast-paced film, along the lines of Welles’ 1973 film, F for Fake, moving along and hopping from location to location. The Other Side of the Wind does have a positive forward momentum, but it runs out of steam after a bit, and for a while, the film drags. This is a found-footage film, constructed — within the plot itself — out of footage taken by reporters and photographers on this one day. The shots change from one vantage point to another, sometimes even changing from color to black-and-white film, but none of these stylistic choices is enough to inject life into this work.
The biggest fault in the film is that there isn’t much to care about. People talk, discuss and argue throughout. There’s rarely a moment without talk.
But among the discussions of the movie and religion — Jake makes a big point of referring to God as “she” — there is nothing quite that interesting at play.
Even if the many conversations amounted to anything more than just ramblings and meaningless arguments, the movie still fails by having no significant forward thrust of a narrative.
Things happen, but they don’t often have a relationship to one another; they just happen. Early on, a reference is made to the point that Jake has no clear plan for what his movie is supposed to be. “He’s done it before,” says Billy Boyle, one of Jake’s movie men, played by Norman Foster.
Welles had more than one production for which he shot piecemeal, as he did for The Other Side of the Wind, getting the actors whenever they were available. On some productions, he shot in different countries by necessity, getting whatever bits and pieces of story he could, dealing with financial woes and production issues. But for The Other Side of the Wind, there’s a lack of direction, as though script ideas were filmed, but not a whole movie. One can only imagine what the film would have looked like had Welles lived to finish it.
Meanwhile, Jake’s The Other Side of the Wind is said to be a parody by Welles of European art films, but it is too heavily leaned upon, too unironically featured to be taken that way.
The segments of this film interspersed are the most indulgent sequences present. These pieces star Oja Kodar — Welles’ longtime companion and his co-writer on the film — as a woman who planted a bomb and Bob Random as the enticed man following her.
As in two extended sequences of F for Fake, Welles shows off Kodar in a way that would be leering from a non-companion but comes across as uncomfortable regardless.
He pushes his fascination for the actress onto viewers, asking them to look at her, to feel enamored, when she does not provide that kind of presence. F for Fake had a sequence edited to show men ogling Kodar while she walked down a street. In The Other Side of the Wind, Welles ogles Kodar through his camera, and the viewer ends up feeling like a third wheel, invisible to the lovers going much further than would be prudent in front of others.
It’s a shame that Welles didn’t have a better final film under his name. The Other Side of the Wind has staying power; it can be felt minutes after leaving the theater, but it just can’t hold itself together. It feels exactly like what it is: a sketchy reconstruction of a messy production. At least there’s more by which Welles can be remembered.
The Other Side of the Wind will be released in select theaters and on Netflix on Nov. 2.