From 1970 – 1976, Orson Welles attempted to make a film so bold that it took four decades for the world to catch up to his vision.
The will of a great director, however, transcends time and now thanks to the current state of production technologies and the support of Netflix, a new generation of cineastes can bear witness to the final testament of genius from the man who changed modern cinema with Citizen Kane.
With the release The Other Side of the Wind, audiences worldwide will bear witness Welles’ final film – a meta, free-jazz cross-genre piece that answers the question “What would Welles do in the era of Easy Riders and Raging Bulls?”
The line between reality and cinema is a delicate, flexible veneer in the mind of a film director.
A spiritual cousin to Fellini’s 8 1/2, Welles’ restored and completed film delves into the world of a filmmaker whose own personality, obsessions, and social circle of pseudo-intellectual artists and socialites expose the zeitgeist of the time when Old Hollywood gave way to the New Hollywood of hippies, leftists, and the oft-well-intentioned (though still colonial in nature) white liberalism. The official synopsis for the film, thought not as simple as it sounds, reads as follows:
“A Hollywood director emerges from semi-exile with plans to complete work on an innovative motion picture.”
Over the course of the picture, the eccentric director Jake Hannaford (played by the deceased John Huston) celebrates his birthday and return from exile, by hosting a party in which his friends, collaborators, and a film crew pontificate on cinema, American imperialism, psychedelic culture, and sex. Dwarves as entertainers, target practice with clay pidgeon actors, reefer culture, and cynicism intersect in wild abundance. Documentary style footage of Hannaford’s heavy drinking, womanizing, and self-indulgent antisocial behaviour are intercut with scenes from his mostly improvised unfinished film reveal a post-modernist reach that can be linked to Welles’ body of work following F is for Fake (1973). Both living and deceased legends such as Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Frank Marshall, Claude Chabrol appear in the film both as themselves and fictional characters, dissolving the line between reality and fiction.
Most impressive is the sheer will and persistence of the producers to complete Welles vision. Producers Bogdanovic, Frank Marshall, and Filip Jan Rymsza took 100 hours footage that sat unopened for 30 years, battling several entities with separate claims of ownership before Netflix stepped in to finance the project’s post-production and restoration. Only 25 – 35% of the film was actually edited when the they stepped in to assemble a work print from various notes left behind by Welles. Even more challenging was the fact that the film blended Super 8, 16mm, 35mm, Black & White film, Color film, and Reversal.
Much of the sound for the project was lost and/or existed only in Beta second/third generation copies. Whereas modern films today use ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) to fix sound in post, this project had a special issue as many of the film’s main actors were long deceased. In order to fix lead actor John Huston’s missing or damaged, the actor/director’s son Danny Huston was brought to do an impressive voice imitation of his father that is so seamless no one would question the difference. The efforts by all involved to restore and present this classic are testament to the love for the man, director, and visionary that was Orson Welles.
Modern audiences may find certain aspects of the film problematic as certain social facets of the 70’s now come as dangerously dated and politically incorrect. Usage of the word f****t, the oversexualization of an Amerindian character who never speaks, and irresponsible white men behaving in said fashion, come off as reminders of just how far society (though not that far, honestly) has come since the original production dates of the film. When taken into context of the cinematic form, both in content and technical achievement, however, the film is every bit as groundbreaking as Citizen Kane. If Welles would have been able to complete the film as planned in the 70’s, it would live amongst his classics Lady from Shanghai, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Trial, et al. as a masterclass in cinematic form.
The Other Side of the Wind opens in the U.S. cinemas on November 2, 2018 with simultaneous worldwide release dates via Netflix.
Rating: 8.3 out 10 Immortal Directors
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