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.

Popular posts from this blog

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

If this were a hoax, would we have six dead men up on that mountain?

The X-Files 4.24: Gethsemane   Season Four is undoubtedly the point at which the duff arc episodes begin to amass, encroaching upon the decent ones for dominance. Fortunately, however, the season finale is a considerable improvement’s on Three’s, even if it’s a long way from the cliffhanger high of 2.25: Anasazi .

My hands hurt from galloping.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) (SPOILERS) Say what you like about the 2016 reboot, at least it wasn’t labouring under the illusion it was an Amblin movie. Ghostbusters 3.5 features the odd laugh, but it isn’t funny, and it most definitely isn’t scary. It is, however, shamelessly nostalgic for, and reverential towards, the original(s), which appears to have granted it a free pass in fan circles. It didn’t deserve one.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

I’ve heard the dancing’s amazing, but the music sucks.

Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) (SPOILERS) At one point in Tick, Tick… Boom! – which really ought to have been the title of an early ’90s Steven Seagal vehicle – Andrew Garfield’s Jonathan Larson is given some sage advice on how to find success in his chosen field: “ On the next, maybe try writing about what you know ”. Unfortunately, the very autobiographical, very-meta result – I’m only surprised the musical doesn’t end with Larson finishing writing this musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical… – takes that acutely literally.

Out of my way, you lubberly oaf, or I’ll slit your gullet and shove it down your gizzard!

The Princess and the Pirate (1944) (SPOILERS) As I suggested when revisiting The Lemon Drop Kid , you’re unlikely to find many confessing to liking Bob Hope movies these days. Even Chevy Chase gets higher approval ratings. If asked to attest to the excruciating stand-up comedy Hope, the presenter and host, I doubt even diehards would proffer an endorsement. Probably even fewer would admit to having a hankering for Hope, were they aware of, or further still gave credence to, alleged MKUltra activities. But the movie comedy Hope, the fourth-wall breaking, Road -travelling quipster-coward of (loosely) 1939-1952? That Hope’s a funny guy, mostly, and many of his movies during that period are hugely inventive, creative comedies that are too easily dismissed under the “Bob Hope sucks” banner. The Princess and the Pirate is one of them.

Who gave you the crusade franchise? Tell me that.

The Star Chamber (1983) (SPOILERS) Peter Hyams’ conspiracy thriller might simply have offered sauce too weak to satisfy, reining in the vast machinations of an all-powerful hidden government found commonly during ’70s fare and substituting it with a more ’80s brand that failed to include that decade’s requisite facile resolution. There’s a good enough idea here – instead of Charles Bronson, it’s the upper echelons of the legal system resorting to vigilante justice – but The Star Chamber suffers from a failure of nerve, repenting its premise just as it’s about to dig into the ramifications.

You’re going to make me drop a donkey.

Encanto (2021) (SPOILERS) By my estimation, Disney brand pictures are currently edging ahead of the Pixars. Not that there’s a whole lot in it, since neither have been at full wattage for a few years now. Raya and the Last Dragon and now Encanto are collectively just about superior to Soul and Luca . Generally, the animation arm’s attempts to take in as much cultural representation as they possibly can, to make up for their historic lack of woke quotas, has – ironically – had the effect of homogenising the product to whole new levels. So here we have Colombia, renowned the world over for the US’s benign intervention in their region, not to mention providing the CIA with subsistence income, beneficently showered with gifts from the US’s greatest artistic benefactor.