I feel rather ambivalent about “The Other Side of the Wind”, Orson Welles’ last completed film which was finally released on Netflix this Friday. While I am not so sure about whether it is as successful as intended, I observed its uneven mix of satire and style with considerable interest and curiosity, and I think it is an important cinematic event you should check out as soon as possible – especially if you are a serious moviegoer with some background knowledge on Welles’ dramatic life and career.
The movie freely alternates between two different parts. One part mainly revolves around an aging Hollywood director named Jake Hannaford (John Huston), and the other part is what turns out to be his last work, which is titled, yes, “The Other Side of the Wind”. While that movie of his in the film seems to be almost complete, Hannaford does not seem to care much about his film, and he and many other characters soon go to a party to be held at a big house belonging to one of his close friends. Even as he is driving to the party place, several guys are eager to get any word from him just because of his legendary status, but the one who usually talks is his de facto pupil Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich), a hotshot movie director who has enjoyed his own success during recent years. Although Welles denied that Hannaford is his fictional version, we cannot help but think of Welles as watching Hannaford, and that impression is further accentuated by the presence of Bogdanovich, who was in fact Welles’ protégé around the time when “The Other Side of the Wind” was made.
Meanwhile, we get some glimpse into Hannaford’s film as one of the financers of the movie watches the rough-cut version of the film. Clearly emulating those European arthouse movies during the 1960-70s, the movie has its lead actress and actor, played by Welles’ co-writer Oja Kodar and Bob Random respectively, aimless move around here and there without any dialogue, and it is no wonder that the financer eventually gets bored and exasperated no matter how much Hannaford’s assistant tries to explain to him what the hell is going on the screen. I am reminded of an advice my late friend Roger Ebert received a long time ago: “If nothing has happened by the end of the first reel, nothing is going to happen.”
Meanwhile, a lot of things happen around Hannaford when he finally arrives at the party place. There are many different people at the party, and some of you may be amused to recognize prominent figures including Claude Charbrol, Paul Marzurky, Henry Jaglom, and Dennis Hopper, who, according to Netflix documentary “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” (2018), was not that sober when he performed in front of the camera.
Most of party guests are excited to see Hannaford, but there is a female critic who is not so cordial to him. Clearly modeled after famous real-life movie critic Pauline Kael, she frequently throws some sharp comments and questions at Hannaford, but he does not give much attention to her – until she later makes some barbed observation on what was probably going on between him and the lead actor of his movie.
Anyway, the main purpose of the party is showing Hannaford’s movie, and we subsequently watch more of his film. We see a very weird scene unfolded in a psychedelic sex club, and then we get a striking sex scene unfolded within a moving vehicle, and then there comes a surreal moment as we hear Hannaford’s voice demanding more and more from his two lead performers.
While I guess these moments were intended as some kind of naughty joke, I also admire how Welles tried to do something new and different. Although the result is not as impressive as those numerous ground-breaking achievements in “Citizen Kane” (1941), he is apparently having a fun with going all the way for baffling and surprising us, and he does not even hesitate to make his movie look as gaudy and blatant as Russ Meyer’s films.
And he also willingly makes a fun of the later years of his filmmaking career. As watching the screening of Hannaford’s movie interrupted more than once due to some technical problems, I could not help but reminded of how many of Welle’s later movie projects including “Chimes at Midnight” (1965) were often hampered and delayed by numerous production problems, and we later get a sad, poignant shot which may be the reflection of his bitter feelings over several unfinished movie projects throughout his career.
At least, “The Other Side of the Wind” managed to survive, though it spent nearly 40 years in its complicated legal limbo before finally going through its remaining post-production process and then being shown to the audiences for the first time at the Venice Film Festival in this September. I have no idea on whether Welles, who died in 1985, would approve of the outcome, and I think he would be amused to see his movie being released along with “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead”, which tells us many things about its problematic production. After all, he once said during the production of his movie that it would be shot “as though it’s a documentary.”
In conclusion, “The Other Side of the Wind” is not something which can be described as ‘entertaining’, but I think it is still worthwhile to watch as a belated cinematic event from one of the greatest filmmakers in the movie history. Although I am not as enthusiastic about it as many other critics, I will soon revisit it someday for more understanding and appreciation, and I may become more fascinated with it. Welles was indeed a genius, and it is surely nice to see another work from him, you know.