The Other Side of the Wind
2018, R, 122 min. Directed by Orson Welles. Starring John Huston, Robert Random, Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, Susan Strasberg, Claude Chabrol, Henry Jaglom, Lilli Palmer, Dennis Hopper.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Nov. 2, 2018
“Ahhhh, the French Champagne has always been celebrated for its excellence,” slurs the much lauded and well-fed writer/director Orson Welles in notorious outtakes from the Paul Masson wine commercials from the late Seventies. And while that company’s famous slogan was “We will sell no wine before its time,” one wonders if the exhaustive measures to bring this film to fruition, Welles’ last, shot over the course of almost a decade, were worth it. Culled from 100 hours of footage and pulled together from detailed notes by Welles, this reconstruction overseen by producers Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza of The Other Side of the Wind will satiate film historians and maybe those Welles fans that enjoyed his later output, such as F Is for Fake. Yet, to be clear, this is a project that brings about the evergreen question of whether a creative’s unfinished project’s torch should be picked up and carried on to the finish line, or if it would have been better left to the vaults for some inevitable future documentary.
“It’s either a bomb or her lunch,” remarks a character early on, watching a woman leaving her car with a purse from across the street. And that becomes, in essence, how you see The Other Side of the Wind. Welles obviously wants to eviscerate the Hollywood system that basically killed his career, yet there’s a faux playfulness that runs throughout the film, less of an overt “Fuck you” and more of a subtextual “Am I good enough?” Director Jack Hannaford (Huston) is a venerable film director who is trying to finish his latest film, and is celebrating his birthday, which means an ocean of booze and an overstuffed population of hangers-on and paparazzi (Welles was either prescient in his depiction of people with cameras everywhere following celebrities, or just making sure he caught all the angles).
The first 30 minutes of this film feel like a fever dream, as Hannaford and his entourage trade barbs while the film stock (and subjects) change like a child’s kaleidoscope. It is frenetic and a bit unsettling. But once the party settles in at the director’s estate, it becomes mildly coherent, Welles opting for continued close-ups of Huston’s haggard-faced Hannaford navigating a succession of sycophants while drowning himself in Chivas Regal (I suspect it was the real thing during filming). And then there is the film within the film, the one that Hannaford is screening, a wordless look at Sixties counterculture starring a Native American woman (Kodar) and a leading man, Johnny Dale (Random) that makes Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point look like The Godfather in terms of narrative coherence. It’s a mess, and I think perhaps Welles knew it would be. An example exchange: Producer: “Someone must have given you the wrong reel. It’s out of order!” Projectionist: “Does it matter?” I expect this film does matter for some, and anyone who dismisses it as mere “curio” is in jeopardy, because the film goes beyond that. I can envision this as a future cult classic, but you may need the stamina of Huston’s liver to get through it.