'The Other Side of the Wind' and the Demolished Genius of Orson Welles

The anticipation around Orson Welles' final work is exhilarating and a little terrifying.

The Other Side of the Wind
Netflix

What happens after you craft the greatest movie of all time? From on high, there is only one direction available. Down. Orson Welles directed 12 films after Citizen Kane. The Magnificent Ambersons,  Journey into Fear, The Stranger, The Lady from Shanghai, Macbeth, Othello, Confidential Report, Touch of Evil, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, The Immortal Story, and F For Fake. Some of them come damn close to perfect, and there are no real stinkers, but not a one recaptures the ingenuity and pathos of Citizen Kane.

The spiral path Welles descended was fraught with creative frustrations, and he left behind a number of unfinished projects. In the 50s, Welles attempted to adapt Don Quixote for the modern era. When his lead actor Francisco Reiguera dropped dead the director was left with scraps of footage; a collection of which was assembled for public consumption in 1992. The result was not well received.

CBS commissioned Welles in 1969 for an abbreviated take on The Merchant of Venice. He got the job done, but two of the three reels disappeared from his production office in Rome. A silent workprint remained and was stitched together with the first reel for the 2001 documentary Orson Welles’ Shylock. A curiosity but no more.

Possibly the most maddening lost film from Welles is The Other Side of the Wind. He began production on it in 1970 but didn’t cast John Huston as the lead until 1973. Yeah. Oof. Tracking the bleary struggle of a filmmaker on the brink of completing his own cinematic final statement, The Other Side of the Wind became just another white whale for Welles. By 1979 he had only completed about 40 minutes of the picture, and the money dried up.

As described by Peter Bart for Deadline, the Spanish financier for the film disappeared mid-production, and the relatives of the Shah of Iran filled his coffers until they lost interest, taking the film with them and locking it away in a bank vault. For nearly forty-eight years there it sat until Netflix came calling with a sack full of cash.

“Well, here it is if anyone wants to see it.”

Oh hell, yeah. I have no idea if the thing will make sense or not. It appears as promised, a stitched-together monster of a fever dream straight from the brain of an angry and stunted master. Press play.

In the seventies, Frank Marshall was a hungry filmmaker looking to rub shoulders with a legend. On The Other Side of the Wind, he worked his way up from location manager to executive producer. Peter Bogdanovich suffered the same adulation. On the edge of starting production on The Last Picture Show, Bogdanovich received a phone call from Welles. The S.O.S. dragged the wannabe Welles into The Other Side of the Wind, and he’s been trapped in its production ever since.

Marshall and Bogdonavich have been cobbling this unfinished work for decades. As word spread of their mission, other creatives wanted in. Filip Jan Rymsza, the Polish writer/director, joined their merry band and was the first to make contact with Netflix. In the wake of various gatekeeping controversies, Netflix chief Ted Sarandos was eager to prove his company’s commitment to cinema. The Other Side of the Wind is the perfect opportunity to strut their stuff.

Based on this trailer, I can’t get a beat on the quality of The Other Side of the Wind. I am struck by several lines uttered within, especially the solemn condemnation of “What he creates he has to wreck.” That compulsion comes straight from Welles. He’s putting his heart on his sleeve. Here is his creative destruction as a swan song. That’s worth a subscription fee alone.

The Other Side of the Wind will see some form of theatrical release on November 2nd before making its final home on Netflix.

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Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.