The Other Side of the Wind

Year: 2019
Production Co: Royal Road Entertainment
Director: Orson Welles
Producer: Frank Marshall/Peter Bogdanovich
Writer: Orson Welles/Oja Kodar
Cast: John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, Bob Random, Susan Strasberg

I think Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall, who shepherded this version of Orson Welles' great unfinished film to screens, would have impressed Welles with the result. After F for Fake I always had the impression that towards the end of his career and life, Welles completely bought his own myth as a great artist-cynic orator holding court surrounded by beautiful young beatniks hanging on his every word.

That aesthetic is still there in the footage he collected, but in the story of John Huston as a poet laureate director and Bogdanovich as one of his cynical but devoted hangers-on, the edited version released on Netflix decades later captures such artist-adulation along with eye-rolling contempt for the trappings of the movie industry as much as I imagined Welles would have wanted.

It tells the story of veteran director JJ Hannaford (Huston), celebrating his birthday on the day he's organising a screening of his latest film. it's a very European art nouveau movie about a mostly-naked woman (Oja Kodar, Welles' main squeeze at the time and his co-writer on this film) who's bewitched a young man (Bob Random) into following her all over several very avant garde locations (abandoned desert town, abandoned industrial factory) before finally banging her on the wire frame of a cruddy old mattress.

We see clips of the film as various characters watch rushes and scenes in screening rooms and private suites, and all around them is a grand exodus of Hannaford and everyone in his professional circle leaving the studio for his Hollywood Hills house for the birthday party.

There's not a lot more plot in the film than there is in the film-within-a-film it's parodying. Any time more than two people gather in the same room they stop everything to argue and pontificate about the movie industry like classic burgoise elitists, all suckling at the teat of the employers they deconstruct and complain about at every turn.

Despite there being so little narrative throughout, it's worth seeing for the kind of director Welles turned out to be in historical context. Like Alfred Hitchcock I think he was probably pretty egotistical and loved the talk of what a genius he'd been his whole career, and that he was also very horny, loving starry eyed bimbos as much as the yes-men and bootlickers constantly telling him how brilliant he was.

Unlike Hitchcock however, Welles lived through the sex and drugs revolution and all the cultural cachet (not to mention the sex and drugs themselves – metaphorical or otherwise) it offered a man of his stature in the industry.

Ironically his star among the truly powerful had faded considerably, and this film was never finished because of the financial and legal quagmires it sank into. But there were those who remembered and revered his early efforts like The Third Man and Citizen Kane, and their reverence forms the backbone of this movie.

It's pretty obvious Huston is a stand-in for Welles himself, and whether you can believe it or not, he apparently wanted to make a satire of both the contradictory nature of working in movies but hating the system that makes them and the New Wave films of Europe that were all about arresting images and female nudity but didn't have any stories in them.

I'd also be interested to know whether Welles would have included as many cuts had he lived to finish the movie. There are so many shots in this film Tony Scott or Michael Bay would consider it excessive.

You might get tired of the constant subtext and comment instead of actual action or dialogue, every line of dialogue a soapbox platitude about how ridiculous the business is that happens to have made everyone present rich and famous, but it's exciting enough to see something Welles had directed when we supposed by the time of his death in 1985 that there was nothing left from his oeuvre to see.

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