Nov 6, 2018
We’re taking a break from Takeover Tuesday this week to take a look at a very special film, the last one, in fact, from the great Orson Welles, finally available after decades. It will be the first of two episodes about this film, with today being the actual film, and Thursday being the documentary about the film, entitled “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” (Episode #312). For a couple other Orson Welles films, check out “The Stranger” (Episode #215) and “Touch of Evil” (Episode #229). And if you have any favorites, let me know at onemoviepunch.com or reach out over social media.
Today’s movie is “The Other Side of the Wind” (2018), the Netflix Original production directed by Orson Welles and written for the screen in collaboration with Oja Kodar. The film follows Jake Hannaford (John Huston), an older filmmaker attempting a comeback with his latest film, titled “The Other Side of the Wind”. After wrapping up filming for the day, the cast, crew, and a host of invited documentarians are invited to Hannaford’s 70th birthday party in the hills, for a special incomplete screening of the film, and which ends up being his last day on earth.
The great challenge for reviewing today’s film is not revealing too much about how the film was made or what was happening behind the scenes, especially for a film that is so clearly autobiographical. I want to save as much of that for the upcoming episode about the documentary, but I’m sure bits from that documentary will make their way over into this film review, just as commentary that should be in this review will end up over there. Can we even separate the two, based on his own interviews about the film, and all the eerie parallels to real people in his life? How does someone who has made arguably the greatest film of all-time so early in his career pull off a similar achievement? And more importantly, are these the kinds of questions that even matter about film-making?
“The Other Side of the Wind” feels a lot like Orson Welles feeling his way through an idea that transforms the way we look at film-making, by deconstructing the lines between fact and fiction, and between the film-maker, film-critic, and film-viewer. The lines were also blurring across the film industry, changing and evolving in pursuit of profit, leaving behind talent and vision for greater ticket sales, even while experimental film was finding a new home playing with evolving technology and lower film costs. The main story, following the end of filming one day and the ensuing birthday party afterwards, is seen through the cameras of the documentarians paid to film the events, without any concern if they catch other cameras in their footage, and filming on a number of different kinds of film, which is then edited down and combined with avante-garde jazz solos in the background. It is surprisingly difficult to watch, and takes time to acclimate to the near constant jump-cuts, almost adopting the slightly nauseating cut-up video technique by William S. Burroughs, but once you’re there, it’s hypnotic, and the loathing can truly begin.
You see, I don’t think this film is so much of a love-letter to film-making, as “Citizen Kane” can be seen, but rather a huge “fuck you” to the future of the film industry, more than willing to exploit new talent as they are to throw away old talent. It’s a tough thing to understand, especially in today’s content tsunami, but there are also exponentially more people clamoring for those dollars, using every single means at their disposal to climb above the noise for funding, which normally comes with strings attached. Strings that wanted films that Welles is so clearly lambasting in the interior film, screened in three segments over the course of the party, with the final showing in a drive-in movie theater of all places, another newer feature of the movie landscape, even if Welles himself had pioneered outdoor film showings. It’s full of imitations of what Hollywood seemed to want from so-called “high cinema” in 1970, sometimes just cleverly concealed pornography, and yet, while the story is almost non-existent in the interior movie, the individual scenes are clearly and classically Welles. As if he were saying, “Sure, I know this is what you want, and I don’t want to do that kind of film, but if you wanted to know what it looks like, check this out.”
But I think what started as an inspired and fun idea evolved into a project with a larger vision, no doubt influenced by his continuing difficulty to secure funding for the film, and not wanting to lose the earlier pieces he was inspired to make as time allowed. The genius editing allows Welles to create a smoothness within the rough jump cuts and stock changes, and while we can never be sure that the final cut was exactly what he wanted, it is good to know from the documentary that it was at least close to completion when the footage was lost to the producers. More on that in Thursday’s documentary review.
“The Other Side of the Wind” (2018) is an astounding film, well ahead of its time on a number of levels, and unfortunately lost for decades in legal limbo. It was the project that drove Orson Welles in the late period of his career, weirdly autobiographical, and a simultaneous critique of the film industry, himself, and those around him. Fans of Orson Welles, or experimental film-making, should definitely check out this film. But be ready for an onslaught of the senses, and to see a side of Orson Welles he may have been hoping that we would never, or perhaps always, see.
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
One Movie Punch: 10/10
“The Other Side of the Wind” (2018) is rated R and is currently streaming on Netflix and playing in select theaters.