The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
We’ve reached the end of our trip into Hollywood’s look at itself and after a brief moment of musical brevity with La La Land we return to more cynical territory. Thankfully, we have a master to guide us.
What more is there that can be said about Orson Welles? A true maverick who burst onto the scene at the age of 25 with Citizen Kane, “the greatest film ever made”, and a film-maker whose mischievousness attitude and refusal to compromise his artistic vision quickly made him the enemy of Hollywood’s powerful studios.
After a period of self-imposed exile in Europe, Welles returned to the US to work on a film that would announce his return as one of Hollywood’s greatest film-makers. Sadly he would not live long enough to see this film completed.
To close out our feature we’re looking at a film that became infamous for decades as one of the “greatest films never finished” until finally, it was more than 30 years after the death of its director. That film is The Other Side of the Wind.
The Other Side of the Wind follows legendary director Jake Hannaford, who has returned to Hollywood after years away in Europe to celebrate his 70th birthday with a swarm of journalists, camera crews and acolytes in tow. The celebration is also a pretext for Hannaford to preview his big Hollywood return, in the hopes of raising funds to finish what has become a deeply troubled production.
Those expecting The Other Side of the Wind to be a film in the vein of Welles work in Citizen Kane might want to look elsewhere. Those looking to see a film made in anything resembling a conventional narrative might also want to look elsewhere.
This is not one film, but actually, two films, each filmed and edited in their own distinctive style while also acting as their own kind of satire about film-making, be it the decline of Classic Hollywood, the rise of New Hollywood or the growing influence of European cinema and its more artistic (and some might say pretentious) style.
Most of the film is shot in a kind of documentary format as the fictional film-director Jake Hannaford as celebrates his birthday. His house packed to the rafters with camera crews filming from all angles and all times.
Although he would deny it, this part feels semi-autobiographical on Welles part, what with its tale of a great American director returning from Europe. Greeted by his adoring and rather sycophantic fans who all seek access to his genius, while also casually ripping him off for the sake of furthering their own directorial ambitions.
From a technical point of view, this area of the film is a mind-boggling affair that must have been a nightmare to film and edit, with the gritty handheld camera work and rapid editing that jumps between various formats of colour and black and white at the drop of hat creating a sometimes disorientating but nonetheless engrossing experience.
The constant presence of a camera in every scene also gives the film a rather cluttered and kinetic look with the rapid cutting between angles keeping the pace moving along quickly. The wobbly cluttered feeling of the film is also especially useful at creating a hazy atmosphere that compliments the increasingly boozy events on screen. I also appreciate the manner the cameras will lurk behind things to try and catch characters in their private conventions, a bit like we’re eavesdropping on things we aren’t supposed to know.
The other half of the film is focused on the film within the film which happens to be entitled “The Other Side of the Wind”, a colourful and stylish European style art film in which we follow Welle’s partner Oja Kordor as she is chased through various surreal scenarios by a handsome young man.
In this section of the film, Welles appears to be borrowing from various European film-makers of the era in a fashion that seems less referential and more so as a means of mocking what he perhaps perceives as a pretentious “style over substance” approach to film-making.
Even it is meant to be a mockery of European cinema, it’s difficult to deny that these aren’t the best looking segments of the film. A stylish effort in which the vibrant use of colour, vivid camera work and creative editing makes for a psychedelic experience that might not make much sense but is at least pretty cool to watch.
The film’s cast of characters is a motley bunch of heavily fictionalised depictions of figures drawn from Welles own life only adding to what I consider the film’s already semi-biographical feel. With so many characters present it’s difficult to go through all of them, but at the film’s centre is the relationship between Jake Hannaford and his protege Brookes Otterlake.
In the role of Hannaford, we have Welles’ fellow larger than life director John Huston in a charismatic yet increasingly tragic performance as a film-making icon that is revered but also subject to intense criticism and speculation regarding his abilities as a film-maker and about the private life he hides behind his overly macho persona.
As Hannofords “Apostle” Brookes Otterlake is Welles’ real-life disciple Peter Bogdonavich in a funny and rather enigmatic performance in which he essentially plays a twisted version of himself, a film critic who decided to stop talking about films and begin making them himself.
The Other Side of the Wind, out of all the films talked about in this feature, is the one that is going to split viewers.
Some will likely be frustrated by the slapdash approach to its construction which could feel disorienting and off-putting, and they are also likely to dislike the plot which feels like it was improvised on the spot whenever Welles got the money to film pieces of it.
However, despite its unusual approach, The Other Side of the Wind is still a fascinating piece of cinema that acts as one final magic trick from one of films most revered personalities. While I can’t guarantee everyone will love it, I’d still suggest that everyone give this film a watch because it really is something special.
Did I miss any of your favourite films about Hollywood or even just about film-making in general? Feel free to let us know in the comments section or on Twitter @FlickeringMyth