Brilliant, Mad ‘Wind’

(Above: Netflix screenshot)

Summary: The Other Side of the Wind, a satire on experimental art films, is a brilliant, but maddening montage of super-quick edits, jarring rhythms, overlapping cross-talk, toggling between black-and-white and color, and long Wellesian pans.

Cinematic Urban Legend Brought to Life

It’s unsettling when an idol returns from the dead.

Orson Welles’ final film emerged like a ghost from the world of cinematic urban legends with its debut on Netflix.

To be clear, The Other Side of the Wind is not a rediscovered lost film. Rather, it represents the exhilarating, final Wellesian journey: a 15-year obsession with directing, co-writing, casting, editing – and yes, serving as camera operator – for a project he could never give up.

But like many of his other films, The Other Side of the Wind had to be completed by others. It became a 48-year cause célèbre involving a large group of producers, sound designers, research consultants and over two dozen film editors.

Filmed intermittently between 1960 and 1976 and laboriously edited by Welles until his death in 1985, The Other Side of the Wind consistently stumbled along due to insufficient funding, a wayward cast and shifting locations.

Peter Bogdanovich
Peter Bogdanovich. Source: YouTube screenshot

Early in production, Rich Little abandoned his sizable role as acolyte to the film’s main character, fictional director Jake Hannaford, played by real-life famed director John Huston. Little, who had been cast, at least in part, for his mimicry talent, was replaced by another real-life director, the wunderkind Peter Bodanovich, who was a  Welles protégé and decent mimic himself. Other film directors and friends playing themselves include Paul Mazursky, Dennis Hopper and Henry Jaglom. They were all paid very little or not at all.

If you want more behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt, watch They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, also on Netflix.

You can also read more about Welles in The Savvy Screener‘s special series about his work.

Studio Conflicts

For most of his film career, Welles struggled with funding. A perceived flight risk due to his post-production absences from The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and A Touch of Evil (1958), Welles was also blamed for significant budget overruns for The Lady From Shanghai (1949).

In the 1950s, Welles turned to financing his own films in Europe, though still plagued by lack of funds. For example, his 1951 adaptation of Othello relocated a palace scene to a Turkish bath, allowing the actors to wear bath towels when their Shakespearean Venetian costumes were impounded for lack of payment.

The Other Side of the Wind

The Other Side of the Wind is a satire on experimental art films.

The premise: Friends and supporters throw a party to raise “end money,” or finishing funds, for Hannaford’s comeback film. Using a film-within-a-film structure, the movie alternates between a frenetically photographed documentary and Hannaford’s unfinished feature —  a beautifully shot though pretentiously incomprehensible piece of cinema.

Comprising most of the film’s two-hour running time, the party mockumentary is a brilliant, but maddening, montage of super-quick edits, jarring rhythms, overlapping cross-talk (a Welles innovation), a toggling of black-and-white with color – and, of course, long Wellesian pans. The film also features Susan Strasberg as a sharp-tongued film critic and Hannaford detractor, director Norman Foster as a loyal assistant and former child star, and Lilli Palmer as a retired leading lady. Hannaford either ignores them all, or provides barbed, witty replies.

Oja Kodar The Other Side of the Wind
Oja Kodar. Source: YouTube screenshot

Welles co-wrote the script with his real-life younger lover Oja Kodar. She plays the silent female lead in the incomplete art film. Her revealing performance, including frontal nudity and soft porn, has earned Welles his first and only R rating.

The party doesn’t go well for an increasingly drunk Hannaford. First, it becomes clear that no additional funding will be forthcoming. Second, the film’s preview showing is interrupted by an electrical outage and generator failure. When the party is forced to move to an unoccupied drive-in theater late in the evening,  the reels get screened out of order.

“Does it matter?,” asks the projectionist.

“I’m not sure it does,” confides Hannaford’s assistant.

You can stream The Other Side of the Wind now on Netflix.

About Charlie Greenberg

Charlie Greenberg is a NY-based theater and instrumental composer.

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