I wonder what Orson Welles would have thought of the completed version of his “The Other Side of the Wind,” which has been finally brought to light after years of rights battles and professional efforts to piece together the footage left incomplete in Welles’s lifetime.
The New York Film Festival has provided a service by showing the film in its revivals section and Netflix deserves credit for bringing about its release. Now it is up to the public to judge and the results are bound by the very nature of the enterprise to be mixed. First, it is important to attempt to surmise what Welles was trying to do when he began shooting in 1970.
From the reconstruction it would seem that Welles was attempting to cast a satirical eye on the process of making movies, with particular attention on the odd gang of people involved in the making. His vision is a turbulent, dark and often comic take behind the chaotic scenes, including a sprawling party in honor of a director’s 70th birthday. One may think of Fellini’s “8½,” also about a director trying to make a movie.
Story-wise the result is an odd conglomeration, as per the screenplay credited to Oja Kodar and Welles. Kodar, born in Croatia, was Welles’s significant other in the latter years of his life. Their collaboration added a further personal dimension.
On the plus side there is fabulous imagery throughout. John Huston, cast as the director, Jake Hannaford, has a face that is totally impressive and it is repeatedly shown in commanding close-ups. His imperial manner is also there, and one of the film’s pleasures is watching him in this central role.
There are also scenes with the beautiful Kodar playing the leading actress, including many nude shots of her, and they are extremely arresting as seen from various camera perspectives doting on her.
The cast also includes Peter Bogdanovich as a disciple of the director, a role played in real life. It is interesting to see the shots of him in his youthful days. His extensive appearances are especially appropriate, as he has been an expert on Welles and a force in pursuit of getting the film freed and completed.
There are impressive appearances of Lilli Palmer, Susan Strasberg, Mercedes McCambridge, Paul Stewart and Robert Random. In fact, one can enjoy the nostalgia of seeing such notables as Edmund O’Brian and Cameron Mitchell. Claude Chabrol, Stephane Audran, Henry Jaglom and Paul Mazursky are also on hand.
Other pleasures are to be found in the set pieces, including a sequence in a drive-in theater. As you might expect, Welles amassed many shots in keeping with his reputation for trying to be unique, and the film is a visual treasure trove.
However—and this is a big however--the bottom line is that if a viewer cannot enjoy all of the above attributes from the point of view of a cinema junkie, one can become completely lost and exasperated in trying to follow what’s going on in the story.
Welles would have undoubtedly edited his film into more solid shape story-wise before he was finished. What we get now is a mélange of his footage. But it must be said with satisfaction that at last the fabled Orson Welles movie is out of the closet, and the mystery can be relegated to film history, the film now to be viewed as part of the great director’s body of work. A Netflix release. Reviewed November 2, 2018.