It’s an uncanny feeling to be watching a new Orson Welles film, over thirty years after the man’s death. The Other Side of the Wind is a Frankenstein’s Monster of a film and is every bit as haphazard, disturbing, inspiring and unexpectedly beautiful.
At first glance the plot reads like self-indulgent tripe: Welles surrogate John Huston plays legendary director Jake Hannaford, a sozzled recluse muttering gnomic quips, as he strains to finish his new experimental film, The Other Side of the Wind. But it’s clear very quickly that Welles has no time for the hero worship and symbolic film readings he was so often subject to, skewering the exalted status of Hannaford and film itself.
The Other Side of the Wind straddles eras, feeling at once older than its principal photography (between 1970 and 1976) and more cutting-edge than its present-day completion by Bob Murawski. The dialogue is frequently misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and less damningly, simply of another era. It’s hard to pass that off as a statement or character trait when it’s so pervasive throughout the script. But in other ways, The Other Side of the Wind is more modern than most films released today.
It sings in a paparazzi of images, with bravura editing cutting between colour and black and white, 16mm and 35mm, ‘official’ cameras and those of the countless limpets feverishly cataloguing Hannaford’s every move, searching for meaning down the barrel of a lens. The effect is glorious, patching together a suitably scrappy impression of a figure so elusive no single perspective could pin him down.
Such a noisy style leaves a garbled message, but the feeling that finally resonates is tragedy. Amongst the buzz and the grime of Hollywood filmmaking Welles’s final word is on how it consumes all who enter its orbit.
CAST: John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Random, Susan Strasberg, Cameron Mitchell
DIRECTOR: Orson Welles
WRITERS: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
SYNOPSIS: A Hollywood director emerges from semi-exile with plans to complete work on an innovative motion picture