As steaming services play a bigger and bigger role in the film and television industry, a lot of attention is going to their original content–but mainly streaming television shows. What about streaming movies? What hidden gems or washed up flops are hiding under the “___ Original” tab? Lets see what is awash in the stream.
The Other Side of the Wind (2018)(sure)
Director: Orson Welles
Writers: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
The greatest film never made has somehow got made. After extensive editing, consulting copious notes left behind by Welles, a crowd-funding campaign, and possibly some dark magic, a finished cut of The Other Side of the Wind, the last film by acclaimed filmmaker Orson Welles, has been completed. The film had been plagued by production problems, shooting over six years from 1970-1976. Investors–including the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran–came and went. One investor embezzled money from the production. Several major roles were recast in the middle of shooting, which required extensive reshoots of what was already shot. Nevertheless, Welles’ managed to complete principal photography, only to run out of money again during editing. Welles’ famously showed a clip of the film during his acceptance of a Lifetime Achievement Award from AFI in an attempt to attract investors. None of the previous problems compared to the legal wrangling after Welles’ death, when disputes over who owned how much of the film and legal battles between Kodar and Welles’ daughter Beatrice over his estate, complicated any attempt to bring in new investors to create a complete edit. Several decades later, producer Frank Marshall–who worked as unit production manager on the film–was able to get the legal issues surrounding the film resolved, only to be again stymied by a lack of investors. After a crowdfunding campaign to digitally scan the negatives, Netflix stepped in and purchased the distribution rights, thus funding a complete edit. So finally, nearly half a century after shooting started, The Other Side of the Wind is completed. Does it live up the hype? After over 40 years as the film too ambitious for the director of Citizen Kane, itself regarded as one of if not the greatest films ever made, no of course not, it would have to cure several diseases and reverse global warming to live up to that kind of hype. But it is a singular film, bursting with ideas and life, proving itself a worthy addition to Welles’ filmography.
Aside from the extensive production troubles summarized above, The Other Side of the Wind is famous for its real-life parallels. The film centers of director Jake Hannaford (John Huston), an Old Hollywood legend feted as one of the greats, but concerned that he’s losing touch with New Hollywood and what the kids are into these days. In the decades before the film was released, the idea that Hannaford is/would be a stand-in for Welles was taken for granted–Welles himself joked about this during his AFI Lifetime Acceptance speech, saying that the name “Jake” is a nickname Frank Sinatra gave him, but adding that it’s just a joke that “the director, who isn’t me,” is named Jake–but the character is more of a tough guy intellectual type, compared by another character to Ernest Hemingway (“Hemingway…that famous left-hook of his was overrated” Hannaford adds) than the more urbane Welles. Every online character listing includes who the character is a fictional representation of–Pauline Kael, Robert Evans, and Mickey Rooney all get roman a clefs–but it would be superficial to reduce the film to who’s who Hollywood gossiping, like a less frat-boy take on Entourage.
Hannaford is working on a new film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” (from now on, quotes means the film within the film, but italics means the actual film proper) but his lead actor, an unknown named John Dale (Robert Random), has walked off and he’s out of money, so he’s attempting to get a studio to put up the funds to finish it. Hannaford is surrounded by a retinue of hangers-on and old associates, a mix of Old Hollywood types clinging to each other for relevance and New Hollywood types eager to learn from an old master. One of the closest members of Hannafords inner circle is Books Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich), who had been writing a biography of Hannaford, only to abandon it and launch his own career as a director. The parallels to Welle’s life are there–the constant funding troubles, Peter Bogdanovich as an acolyte turned rival, and obviously, the title of the film itself–but this is just the barebones plotting from which the film launches into something more experimental.
The film is set on Hannaford’s 70th birthday, which an opening voiceover tells us is also Hannafords last night alive; he would be killed in a car crash the next day. The voiceover is Otterlake, explaining that the film, which he calls an “historical document,” is made of various footage of Hannaford’s birthday party, captured by various documentarians, biographers, amateaur directors, and has waited for over 40 years to be released. Yes, the voiceover is a recent addition, reworking a voiceover Welles planned to add himself as narrator. Working the films infamous delays into the story is consistent with the mockumentary concept that it’s going for, a blend of the truth-in-fakery idea explored in F For Fake and the mystery of a great man concept of Citizen Kane.
The Rosebud equivalent is Hannaford’s latent homosexuality. As the party goes on, questions that Hannaford’s macho posturing is overcompensating become more pointed. Hannaford’s former leading lady Zarah (Lilli Palmer) says that he “prefers the company of men,” a comment Hannaford interprets without irony and goes on a rant about women just taking up men’s time and energy. Another character, while saying that Hannaford isn’t as tough as he puts on, calls him a “big, pink lobster,” which is quite the colorful insinuation. This leads up to a climatic confrontation with film critic/biographer Juliette (Susan Strasberg) who theorizes that Hannaford’s habit of seducing married women is really a way to seduce husbands by proxy. Hannaford does not take the idea well.
Hannaford’s anxieties about aging are also a major theme. “The Other Side of the Wind” film within a film is a parody of arthouse European films, following two unnamed characters as they walk around, stare into the middle distance, and get undressed. There is no dialogue. Hannaford is attempting to show that he’s still got it, and can do whatever the new daring auteurs are doing, but it isn’t quite working, and he’s increasingly sidelined within an industry that professes to admire him. Hannaford is quietly jealous of Otterlake, whose career is on the rise as Hannaford is on the decline.
This theme is the most direct to Welles’s life–as noted above, Welles tried to use his Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony as a fundraiser for his new film. It didn’t work, with some attendees finding the attempt inappropriate and awkward. Even in the midst of a ceremony celebrating his legacy, Welles still couldn’t anybody willing to invest in him. People would applaud to Welles being a great man, but their wallets would close when reminded that greatness isn’t free.
The relationship between Otterlake and Hannaford parallels Bogdanovich and Welles, in more ways than intended. Bogdanovich befriended Welles when Bogdanovich first moved to Los Angeles, a film critic with dreams of becoming a director. Like Otterlake, Bogdanovich was able to fulfill his dreams, with a critically praised commercial hit (The Last Picture Show, for Bogdanovich; unnamed for Otterlake). The opening voiceover implies that Otterlake’s career ended up in a similar spot as Hannaford, near irrelevant and passed over. Bogdanovich may not have Welles’ highs and lows, but his feature debut was nominated for a Best Director Academy Award, and his most recent film was an Owen Wilson romantic comedy in 2014.
That is about it when it comes to parallels with Welles life. While Welles’s real-life mistress, Oja Koder (who, despite appearing in both the “Other Side of The Wind” sequences and the film proper, has no dialogue and is credited as “The Actress”) spends most of her screentime topless, the real ingenue of the The Other Side of the Wind is John Dale. Hannaford planned on giving Dale a car as a gift, and his resentment over Dale walking off-set is mildly reminiscent of a spurned lover. Hannaford tells the story of how he met Dale, a young man Hannaford fished out of the Gulf of Mexico following his (Dale’s) suicide attempt. Hannaford is mystified over why Dale left, but it is revealed that Dale literally walked off-set while filming a scene that involved laying down naked on bed-springs while Hannaford yelled at him about getting an erection, so, no big mystery why he wouldn’t want to hangout in that work environment. Hannaford shoots dummies made to resemble Dale to let off anger. Hannaford does some background research into Dale, and learns that their meet-cute in Mexico wasn’t what it appeared. Despite whatever feelings of betrayal Hannaford may feel, he still desires to bring Dale back into the fold, with an emotional attachment that goes beyond just wanting to finish the film.
The idea that Other Side of the Wind is made of found footage from various cameras means that the film often cuts from 16mm, 8mm, color, and black and white. The constant changing visuals create a high-energy rhythm, even as the film is mostly just snippets of conversations at a party. Early sequences of partygoers organizing themselves to head to Hannafords mansion, forming carpools and caravans, have a staccato, machine gun-like rhythm, which can be almost overwhelming. Narratively, there isn’t much going on–a lot of characters are introduced, most of which end up disappearing just as quickly; there is a Dennis Hopper cameo–but there is a sharpness to the nothing that is happening. This shooting style is ahead of it’s time for the 70s, anticipating and surpassing similar styles that would be popular in the 90s.
The Other Side of the Wind may not be the long lost masterpiece 40 years of mythologizing would have you believe. However, it is more than a historical curiosity or piece of trivia. It is a real film, and Welles skill behind the camera is still there. It is dated to the 70s in some ways, and far ahead of its time in others. It may not cast the kind of shadow Citizen Kane does over the medium, but it earns a spot as a full fledged entry in Orson Welles ourvere, not just a footnote.
Hidden Gem or Washed Up Flop? Hidden Gem