The Other Side of the Wind, 2018.
Directed by Orson Welles
Starring John Huston, Oja Kodar, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Random, Susan Strasberg, Joseph McBride, Edmond O’Brien, Mercedes McCambridge, Cameron Mitchell, Paul Stewart, Peter Jason, Tonio Selwart, Howard Grossman, Geoffrey Land, Dennis Hopper, Gregory Sierra, Benny Rubin, Cathy Luvas, Dan Tobin, George Jessel, Richard Wilson, Claude Chabrol, Stéphane Audran, Curtis Harrington, Henry Jaglom, Paul Mazursky, and Lilli Palmer
A Hollywood director emerges from semi-exile with plans to complete work on an innovative motion picture.
Long-gestating and (literally) stuck in development purgatory, Netflix’s cobbled together and finished version (according to a preemptive on-screen graphic, there were over 100 hours of footage to sift through and edit) of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind is more fascinating to discuss as a slice of history that an actual movie, which like most offerings towards the filmmaker’s twilight years… well, they were no Citizen Kane. Then again, what else is?
Functioning as some kind of meta-project that, by actually seeing the light of day, has increased tenfold in its meta factor, this unfinished work from the legendary director (which by the way, is not his only unfinished film, and I would not be surprised if Netflix tries to find other ways to release more of them if this winds up being a success for them) follows a celebrated director returning to the US to make a comeback film. Much like the actual The Other Side of the Wind that we are watching, the film within the film is given the same title, with production spiraling out of control (cast members leaving, heavy criticism underway, and a general feeling that nothing about the movie will be any good). If that wasn’t enough, Orson Welles’ film also contains such intriguingly intentional casting decisions such as his late significant other Oja Kodar (also a credited screenwriter on the film) playing the lead actress for fictional director Jake Hannaford’s (the late John Huston, whose gradual descent into drunken buffoonery is one of the more entertaining aspects of this curious misfire) The Other Side of the Wind, and Peter Bogdanovich as a friend that looks up to Jake Hannaford, similar to the dynamic between the real figures.
NOTE: To keep things simple, I will only bold The Other Side of the Wind when referring to the actual Orson Welles film released on Netflix.
Considering that Orson Welles worked on this project from the 70s until his passing, it’s safe to say that The Other Side of the Wind is purposely terrible and meant to be a smug attack on the increasing popularity of European art-house films. It lacks no plot and follows a pair of strangers on what feels like an imaginative LSD trip before morphing into an erotic thriller that sees The Actress (as previously mentioned played by Oja Kodar) nude for the majority of the picture. Not only that, but in passing the Native American woman is referred to with racial slurs, which considering Marlon Brando rejected his Academy Award win for The Godfather due to poor treatment of them throughout the 70s, is fairly accurate.
Footage of this disaster in the making that will likely never reach completion is being shown throughout the night as a birthday celebration for Jake Hannaford, surrounded by peers and critics, but mostly those wishing to indulge in his presence. And while the night unfolds frenetically with incalculable pacing, we get enough of a glimpse of Jake to realize that Orson might be either delivering commentary on the state of Hollywood at the time, or possibly even himself; notable uncomfortable scenes involve Jake flirting with a high school senior (presumably underage), poorly portraying women in his films (the nudity is absolutely gratuitous, but in the context of The Other Side of the Wind and our current landscape paint an appropriate picture of the unsavory past and the more hopeful present,) racial undertones, and hidden homosexuality. Just as rewarding as paying attention to how the fictional filmmaker treats women, are his friendships with male stars, amounting to some meaningful and memorable closing lines.
By the point just about everyone is drunk (with hiccup after hiccup preventing the screening from going off as planned), Jake begins firing a rifle at some mannequins in a sequence juxtaposed with The Actress firing a different rifle from another location. Now, something as ambitious as The Other Side of the Wind (by the way, which is the real reason I think the film was never finished, as even in its current finished state the structure and pacing of the film is a frustrating mess) contains multiple interpretations, but it’s hard not to imagine this as the mistreated gender rising up against the Hollywood status quo. In other words, even though she can’t see him, she’s probably aiming for Jake. Nevertheless, it’s the only truly arresting segment in the film, aside from the hodgepodge of colors and bizarro sexual content littering the film within the film.
Somewhere within all 100 hours of footage exists a truly wonderful character study of a Hollywood filmmaker that, by extension, allows us to understand more of Hollywood itself during the 70s/early 80s. This only begs the question, since Netflix is distributing such a project, why limit such an ambitious work to a two-hour film? Why not surf through all of that material and turn it into a television series? Surely that makes much more sense given the amount of content and the brand that has purchased the rights to the story? As mixed of a bag it is, the very existence of The Other Side of the Wind is too intriguing for any serious film buff to not find of important value, but that doesn’t make the experience necessarily great.
Instead, it’s jarring, disorienting, all over the place, only sporadically finding fleeting moments of substance, which is all the shame because realistically, Orson Welles was on to making The Wolf of Wall Street regarding 70s Hollywood. If he had ever got around to finishing it or if Netflix compiled the footage in a much more digestible manner, cinema would have quite literally uncovered buried treasure. As it stands, The Other Side of the Wind akin to finding loose change in your couch. In this scenario, pretend you buy something halfway decent with that money.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com