in about 100 words or less
US/Iran/France 122m, Colour/B&W
Director: Orson Welles; Cast: John Huston, Oja Kodar, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Bob Random, Lilli Palmer, Edmond O’Brien, Mercedes McCambridge, Cameron Mitchell, Paul Stewart, Gregory Sierra, Tonio Selwart, Dan Tobin, Joseph McBride, Dennis Hopper
In historical context, The Other Side of the Wind was at least a decade ahead of its time. Left unfinished for more than 40 years since principal photography was completed in 1976, this film has yet to be fully appreciated for its technical, artistic and historic value. As Welles’ most anticipated project since Citizen Kane, Wind could have been widely influential if not for a number of unfortunate events which plagued its completion. A wide departure from his earlier work, Wind is the third of Welles’ films which I have included on my 100 Favourites list, the other two being Citizen Kane (1941) and Chimes at Midnight (1965). While Kane is recognized for innovative camera and lighting techniques, script, and editing, I would suggest that Wind shares these attributes in film making excellence. Likewise, Welles’ interweaving of a number of Shakespeare’s plays into Chimes, is a sophisticated act of storytelling that is comparable to The Other Side of the Wind.
The eventual completion of The Other Side of the Wind was a highly unlikely event owing to artistic differences, alleged embezzlement, legal proceedings and international politics that included the Iranian Revolution – all of which are broadly covered in the documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018). While the issues that surrounded the making of Wind may never be fully known, it is a well-known fact that most of Welles’ film making career was hampered by a lack of funds that arguably stemmed from his adamant desire for complete artistic control. Ironically, Wind was only finished after Welles’ death, and ultimately under someone else’s direction. From the many interviews and documentary sources that were left behind, including a 40 minute edited cut of Wind, the evidence suggests that the completed film is not far from Welles’ original vision. While we’ll never know if he would have approved of the finished product, it is likely that he would have found ways to improve upon it.
At the center of the film’s recent critical success is a brilliantly simple plot which consists of a fake documentary about the making of a film that is also entitled The Other Side of the Wind – an unfinished avant-garde film project by J.J. “Jake” Hannaford, a fictional Hollywood director who apparently was based on Ernest Hemingway, but also seems to be coloured by Welles’ own experiences and observations of the filmmakers of his generation. Depicted as an aged cantankerous critically acclaimed director, with a penchant for young women, Hannaford attends a screening party in which his film is shown for the purpose of raising much-needed funds. Along with his guests, which consist of an eccentric assortment of friends, film critics, students and similarly interested and disinterested parties, we catch glimpses of a highly stylized and disjointed film that is seemingly devoid of plot.
Hannaford’s predicament mirrors Welles’ own financial troubles, and as such, is at least coincidently autobiographical, despite his assertions to the contrary. The appearance of Peter Bogdanovich, who plays Brooks Otterlake, a successful young director and Hannaford’s protege, seems yet another curious coincidence. Like his character, Bogdanovich was a personal friend and devotee of Welles, who himself had early critical acclaim as the Director of his first feature film, The Last Picture Show (1971). If that were not enough, the leading actress in Hannaford’s film is played by Oja Kodar, a young beautiful actress who was Welles’ 20-something mistress and muse.
Looking closer at Hannaford’s unfinished project, we see a satirical commentary on the state of film making of the era, which seems to reflect the styles of a number of newly acclaimed directors, including the likes of Godard, Jodorowsky and Antonioni. Interestingly and probably not a accidently, Welles shot a portion of The Other Side of the Wind on location adjacent the mansion featured in Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point (1970).
Hannaford’s film is also a demonstration of Welles’ ability to not only satirize this new style of film making, but is also proof of his own ability to make such a film. For example, the highly charged sex scene between Oja Kodar and Bob Random, which takes place in the uncomfortable confines of the front seat of a car that they share with another, is a masterful scene that likely would have been celebrated by film historians, if it had appeared in a “real” film of the day. Likewise, there is an utterly brilliant and ill-fated “love making” scene which takes place on a bed of bare bed springs that is a dazzling “behind-the-scenes” scene that both questions and exposes the reality of cinema.
Comparably, François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973) is a celebrated contemporary film that may be closest to TOSW insofar as it is also about the making of a fictional melodrama. In playing Ferrand, the faux-film’s director, Truffaut (the former film critic-turned filmmaker who is effectively playing himself) leads us through the pitfalls of cinema in-the-making. Considering the similarities between the two, and the timing of Welles’ intermittent shooting schedule, which overlapped with Truffaut’s, it is interesting to wonder the extent to which they were an influence on one another.
There are also similarities in tone and underlying themes of Welles’ own work during the 1970s. The concept of authenticity in art, for example, was a topic that seemed to interest Welles when he began work on The Other Side of the Wind, and which later would manifest itself in more explicitly in his documentary, F For Fake (1973).
Though his every subsequent film was ultimately compared to Citizen Kane, none had achieved the critical acclaim that was heaped upon his initial work. When asked which of his movies did he consider the greatest, he once replied that it would be his next. Although it seems improbable that The Other Side of the Wind would have been lauded as his greatest film if had been completed during his lifetime, it is an astonishing film for its day, and a fitting bookend to the career of one of film history’s most talented filmmakers (Klaus Ming December 2018).