Other Side of the Wind: Welles’s White Whale

40 YEARS IN THE MAKING. HIS FINAL FILM. 

Everybody in the film business has an opinion on Netflix. Theater owners are particularly upset about major awards going to Netflix movies that are being shown just a few weeks in theaters and then immediately being available for streaming. Others in Hollywood thank Netflix for giving them a place to screen their films.

We have no idea what Orson Welles would think about Netflix. But they did save his last movie for posterity.

In the beginning of the film, we learn from the director Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich) that his famous mentor Jake Hannaford (John Huston) was killed in a car crash on his 70th birthday. He had just finished a daring but confusing final art-house film called The Other Side of the Wind, featuring two attractive young actors who spend the lion’s share of it in the nude. We meet Hannaford at his birthday party where the film is also screened. Hannaford keeps getting increasingly drunk and realizes that Otterlake is not going to be at his side as he’s always been…

Running into never-ending mishaps
The story of the making of this film is so interesting it actually merited its own documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead; both films were shown at the 2018 Venice film festival. Welles began the production of this fabled movie back in 1970 when he returned to the U.S. from Europe. For years he had been toying with the idea of making a movie about a filmmaker inspired by the larger-than-life personality of Ernest Hemingway (and himself, not that he would admit it). Welles ran into a never-ending series of mishaps over the years that kept delaying production, including tax issues with the U.S. government, lack of funds, one investor allegedly running away with some of Welles’s money, and legal issues involving among others the director’s daughter. Many Hollywood profiles have tried to salvage the film according to Welles’s wishes after his death, not least Bogdanovich, but it took until 2017 to finally get it done.

After Netflix’s deal, the Oscar-winning editor Bob Murawski was hired to finish the editing, which Welles always intended to be avant-garde and unusual for its time. There are in fact two films in one that differ greatly in style; the scenes at the party are a chaotic, often barely coherent, mix of people talking and shouting at each other, surrounding Hannaford and his entourage. The editing is very fast. The movie within the movie (Hannaford’s art-house project) is in color, slower and deliberately looking more like Antonioni. Welles wanted all this to be a piece of Hollywood satire, depicting a clash between two generations represented by the aging Huston and the young Bogdanovich, while also demasking the ridiculous macho attitude of the Brilliant Filmmaker.

Watching the final version of this white whale of a movie, is obviously fascinating on one level. Huston is perfect in the lead and the film must really reflect how Welles thought about Hollywood, Europe and the constant chase after what’s genuine beyond all that. But this is also experimental navel-gazing of a rather tiresome kind, its lack of narrative focus likely to put off most viewers except nostalgic cineastes. That said, the idea that Netflix was willing to fund its completion is indeed heartwarming. 

The Other Side of the Wind 2018-U.S.-France-Iran. 122 min. Color-B/W. Directed by Orson Welles. Screenplay: Oja Kodar, Orson Welles. Music: Michel Legrand. Editing: Bob Murawski, Orson Welles. Cast: John Huston (J.J. ”Jake” Hannaford), Peter Bogdanovich (Brooks Otterlake), Susan Strasberg (Juliette Riche), Oja Kodar, Norman Foster, Bob Random… Lilli Palmer, Edmond O’Brien, Mercedes McCambridge. Voice of Orson Welles.

Trivia: Co-produced by Frank Marshall; co-executive produced by Bogdanovich. Henry Jaglom, Paul Mazursky, Dennis Hopper, Claude Chabrol and Cameron Crowe make small appearances. 

 

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