Skip to main content

He's a rough magician, isn't he?

The Other Side of the Wind
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Sometimes it may be better notto get what you want and to carry on dreaming about how splendid it would be if you had it. The Other Side of the Wind has been one of those elusive grail items; "Wouldn't it be amazing if we finally got to see Orson Welles' great uncompleted masterpiece?" The critical response to getting it at last has been generally kind, but generally kind in the sense of considering it would be churlish to rip it to shreds after all the effort that has gone in to getting it out there, and out of respect to the fat man. Really, though, it's a bit of a mess.


"This is an attempt to honour and complete his vision" announces an introductory title card, but one can't help feeling that an attempt to grasp something so mercurial is doomed to failure. Wind really needs to be watched as a double bill with They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, in which Morgan Neville details the protracted trials and tribulations of making of the picture, to get a perspective on the wayward child it is. Which is to say, it barely stands on its own; it's a curiosity, interesting for that, but lacking inherent vitality and coherence. 


An anecdote regarding Welles long-suffering cinematographer Gary Graver may provide a clue as to why the picture is less than satisfying; he assembled a workprint and tried to cut it, "but without Orson, it didn't track". It was perfect in Graver's head, but he "just couldn't get it on film". Maybe Welles’ alchemist’s touch would have made all the difference (one can delight in the witty brilliance of F For Fake's editing, but try asking someone else to reproduce it). Or maybe it wouldn't. Maybe the half decade production schedule did for it making sense, as the subject matter unspooled from its director's grasp. At one point in the fly-on-the-wall proceedings (a camera crew is filming the 70th birthday party of John Huston's Wellesian-to-an-extent Hollywood director Jake Hannaford), a character is told "You'd better read the script" to which the reply comes "There isn't one. Jake is just making it up as he goes along". It's something echoed in They'll Love Me by those involved, but being self-conscious about the flaws in your approach doesn't guarantee you post-modern sparkle, it just shows you’re aware of the flaws.


I note the Variety review favoured Wind's framing device over the film within a film, but I found the latter more clearly intentioned and stylistically devised, perhaps because Welles had most of it in the can first. Sure, it's a cheap joke; Hannaford's past-it great is attempting to get down with the kids and make something that plays to the modern, hip crowd (but needs funding). This consists mostly of the very lovely Oja Kodar – Welles' girlfriend, and some allege instrumental in obstructing the film from being assembled for such a long time – promenading around nude as she seduces young buck John Dale (Bob Random). The footage is as predictably plotless as that sounds, but it's in the soundtrack to these passages – the goading, controlling director, and the reactions of viewers to the content – that Wind hits a groove largely absent elsewhere. In tandem, one also can't help but ponder the trophy obsession of directors flaunting their young muses en flagrante, as if to announce to the world "Look at what I have".


Much of the rest finds us flitting from guest to guest amid bitty, witty interjections, random observations or improvised conversations and anecdotes that can't escape the artificial veneer of their genesis. Welles idea sounds worthy enough as a premise ("But I would like to take a whole story and make the picture as though it were a documentary. The actors are gonna be improvising. Nobody's ever done it before, you know"), but exactly the issue his audience asks ("Aren't you afraid the end result won’t have any control?") presents itself. 


Brooks OtterlakeWhat would we really be hiding, lady?
Juliette Riche: How much you hate each other.

Loosely, there are narrative pegs. We know this the final day of Hannaford's life (as recounted in a framing voiceover). There's Hannaford's protégé Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich, basically playing Peter Bogdanovich, and doing it passably) and the underlying unease of the lauded titan now eclipsed by the young scamp who held him in awe. There's the Pauline Kael-esque film critic Juliette Riche (Susan Strasberg), out to take pot-shots at Hannaford whenever she can (igniting his final physical outburst when she accuses Hannaford of latent homosexual tendencies towards his young discovery). There are also various young director luminaries (Henry Jaglom, Dennis Hopper, Paul Mazursky) in attendance.


Welles first came up with the idea in the early '60s, at which point he was already a Hollywood exile. On might argue that, like the recent example of Gilliam and his reconfigured The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the less funding you get, the less you're on the radar of the big studios you resent, the more your vision stretches only to an interior perspective, of your own limited, scratchy place within the filmmaking firmament. Interesting for you, less so for your audience. What do you have to say beyond your own artistic (lack of) compromise? The Wiki page for Wind details the various real persons the characters are purportedly designed to represent (including Hannaford as Hemingway – Hannaford's death being the same date as Hemingway's – and the denial that he represents Welles, but that's like believing Woody Allen when he says his characters aren't based on him), yet this only really has relevance if the picture is digging in on the satire front. There are plenty of pithy epithets and blithe asides, but nothing to pull out of the party sequences in a concerted way. This isn't another The Player.


The result is that Wind is too fractured to really work in a compelling fashion. It's unable to develop a distinctive rhythm or cast a hypnotic spell. Welles' film is caught between stylistic intent and the reek of artifice, the camera light on its feet, but the content laboured and staged. There's a persistent feeling of unmotivated scene changes and segues – what shall we do next? I don't know, let's try this; it's like eavesdropping on a conversation you have no stake in, and so quickly becomes a chore.


One wonders whether Welles would have admitted defeat with the footage, had he got it back and been able to make of it what he would. I suspect his approved The Other Side of the Wind wouldn’t have seen the light of day in the form we see it now, however devotedly its architects may have poured over his notes, given that he was reported to have been obsessing over the editing during the time he did have access (he had forty minutes edited at the point it was locked away) and that he was most interested in delivering whatever turned out to be most interesting for the picture, rather than the picture as devised. Because while The Other Side of the Wind holds interest as a document of what might have been, it isn't an especially interesting film. 


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.