A relic from years gone by has been completed. On May 7th, 2015, a project showed up on funding site Indiegogo. An unreleased film from one of cinema’s legendary filmmakers. It was a campaign to finance the completion of Orson Welles’ final film, The Other Side of the Wind. The film even had trouble there and it wasn’t until Netflix delivered with the rest of the investment that the film became a reality.
Orson Welles’ projects’ were well known for running into difficulties. His second feature, The Magnificent Ambersons, was cut by studio RKO, with footage being thrown away. Even in the state, it reached cinemas, the Academy nominated it for four Oscars including Best Picture. Touch of Evil, a film noir starring Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston, also had a butchered debut. Universal made edits to the picture, and the finished product barely resembled Welles vision.
The Other Side of the Wind was another issue altogether.
The film was never completed by Welles’ due to budgetary constraints. Welles had to turn to self-financing his films given the difficulties he faced in Hollywood. For The Other Side of the Wind, Welles used a mixture of foreign financiers to fund his picture. It was never enough money though, and the film was never completed. Welles would pass-away in 1985 never seeing the end for his film.
Then, in 2014, producers Filip Jan Rymsza and Frank Marshall received the rights to the film. The goal was to fund the movie with a crowdfunding campaign. Welles film would see the light of day. That brings us to 2018.
It is difficult to separate The Other Side of the Wind from the journey it took to the screen. The movie features John Huston as J.J. “Jake” Hannaford, a film director who is seeking to reinvent his career with his new film, also known as The Other Side of the Wind. That Welles had the same intention, making a splash in Hollywood after years away, watching the film is a little like watching Christopher Nolan’s Inception. On the top level, we have fans and producers trying to fund and complete an Orson Welles film that no one will finance. Then, we have Orson Welles trying to complete his film that no one will finance. We have a director in an Orson Welles film, trying to get funding for his uncompleted film. Finally, you have The Other Side of the Wind, the incomplete film by J.J. Hannaford.
The experience of watching Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind is another story. The largest audience for the film will be cinephiles excited to watch a piece of history 40+ years in the making. They will know it as that long-lost film from the director of Citizen Kane. They will go to their streaming device of choice; a laptop, a 4K OLED TV with Dolby Vision, or a cell phone. The expectation will be that Netflix has a huge banner for the movie. One of the most unbelievable cinematic endeavors in the last 40 years, by one of the icons of our time! It must be front page worthy.
Netflix doesn’t value this film as much as cinephiles do. There will be scrolling through titles like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The Haunting of Hill House, House of Cards. Netflix, in their infinite wisdom, has buried The Other Side of Wind to its search algorithm. It is just another feather in their cap, not something they deem as commercially viable. Perhaps it is this moment that feelings of anger and frustration come into play. Those emotions will soon turn to bemusement and confusion.
Right away we are made well aware of the turmoil and hours that have been put into making this film a reality. “Nearly 100 hours of footage” had to be edited. It was put together using memos and a few edited scenes. A colossal effort.
Now the first glimpse of what was done to make this a coherent picture comes into the frame. True to Welles vision, it is a mixed media fest of stills, both in black & white and in color. We have scenes of John Huston in color, pictures of Peter Bogdanovich, and they set the tone for what to come. And then we have what is the most vibrant and significant part of the entire film.
We see the first glimpse of co-writer Oja Kodar. I emphasize the co-writer part because it offers background into why she might strut through Welles picture naked. Perhaps it was that and that she was Welles partner for the latter years of his life. The idea for Hannaford’s The Other Side of the Wind was that it would capture 70s Hollywood. At one spectrum, it is poking fun at European directors such as Bergman and Antonioni. The features where a young man is following a woman with little plot. It is more of a feeling. Seen in another light, it is just a pornographic picture. Kodar spends most of the film naked as she bares it all for the camera. There is even a sequence where she is having sex with the male lead for say 7 minutes in the back of a car. Welles intended that it would look like an amateur picture, but instead, it looks like pornography. That this pornographic picture takes up a good portion of The Other Side of the Wind brings clarity to how it is being released.
The most important one is that Welles film would have trouble being exhibited in movie theaters. Not that any studio was interested in Welles at this point of his career. That would lead to financiers being afraid to fund it. It might also be why Netflix has not shown a spotlight on the film. A casual Netflix user might not be too happy if they stumble upon The Other Side of the Wind when they are looking for something similar to Maniac. Nudity of this level is still taboo in much of the country. It isn’t what general audiences will latch onto.
I mentioned that these sequences of Oja Kodar and Bob Random having sex in different places was significant. They are significant in they are the most distracting part of the entire movie and they do nothing for the plot. They also hold the film back from likely ever getting wide acclaim or acceptance. That might be just what Welles wanted though. What is interesting about The Other Side of the Wind, is that it is a story of a director trying to make a comeback with an experimental film to match the current era. This director, Hannaford, is trying to earn funding to finish his film on the celebration of his 70th birthday. Welles has insisted that it isn’t an autobiography, but it is hard to see as anything else.
The birthday party is the vital piece in all of this and the mixed media portion of the film makes a lot more sense this way. The documentary part of the film, the party, is pieced together from the various stills and footage taken from the photographers at the event. It is a statement on the overabundance of filming our every moment that is relevant even some 40 years later.
Hannaford has invited countless journalists to film his birthday party. His hope is that it will drum up excitement for his film. There are cameras everywhere in his mansion, capturing small moments like conversations between Hannaford and his protégé Brooks Otterlake (Bogdanovich). Then the cameras are also in the rooms where Hannaford is trying to strike up a deal for financing where the financier has something unseemly to say so he asks to turn off the cameras. Hannaford assures him they off, lying to the man, and getting his admission on film. This is a common plot occurrence in 2018, but it says something that Welles was trying to capture the excessive way we promote our lives.
As a motion picture and taken on those merits, a lot of The Other Side of the Wind is tedious and pornographic. The mixture of formats and quick cuts demands attention in a world that doesn’t exist as it did back then. But you also have to take in consideration the countless hours that went into bringing this picture to Netflix. Every motion picture is a project of epic proportions, but this one feels different. One interesting idea from the documentary that was made concurrently with the release The Other Side of the Wind, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, is that perhaps the making of the movie was the movie all along.
Watching The Other Side of the Wind is an experience I’m glad to have done. What each individual will get out of this film will be widely different. It is a special treat to see these long-lost performances and a film that meant so much, to so many people, completed.