«The Other Side of the Wind
» is a 2018 film by actor and director Orson Welles
. It was shot in the mid-70's but came out 30 years after his death. The film's genesis is a true crime story that could be a whole article in and of itself. Nobody would finance the project, so they ended up taking money from the Shah's brother-in-law. The documentary «They'll Love Me When I'm Dead
» tells the story.
Orson Welles is a magician of the film world, he would gladly have people run away from the screen like they ran away from the first Lumier brothers' short films. The famous «War of the Worlds» production that made people think there really was an alien invasion is his brain-child. And after his sarcastic take on postmodernist tropes in «F for Fake»(1973), the 30-years-long post-production of «The Other Side of the Wind» appears to have been his idea all along.
At 25, Welles made the genius film «Citizen Kane» (1941), strongly influenced by German expressionism. And if now Orson Welles is a legend of the Hitchkok level, back then Zanuck and Goldwin reigned, film studios loyal subjects. So, the painstakingly made 1941 film did not get to the big screen: the companies refused to release it, newspapers boycotted it. The aestheticism and use of the fancy techniques just for technique's sake made it a target for criticism from European intellectuals, such as Sartre. Ironically, Welles did not just influence US filmmaking; he is
US filmmaking. The famous hall of mirrors scene from the flopped «The Lady from Shanghai» (1947) has been referenced a countless number of times.
Welles did not believe Hitchkok to be a good director. He disliked the golden age of Hollywood more than anyone else from the new wave; for him, Katharine Hepburn and Norma Shearer are terrible actresses. Exhausted with fighting American studios, Welles led a prolific creative life in Europe: he made «The Trial» (1962) based on Kafka's eponymous work, and had a role in Poronare (1962), the new European cinema almanac.
Welles might not be a trailblazer, yet he definitely was hard to work with, stubborn artist. He'd come back to the USA many times to work on TV; but the Welles we watch now is not how people saw him when he was first released. Even «Touch of Evil» (1958), a rather moralizing masterpiece was re-edited into oblivion for the cinema. From there on, Welles hasn't made a single movie in the USA, even after the rule of the Hays Code had ended. Well, he did make movies in America, he just never finished one.
Funnily enough, the mockumentary «The Other Side of the Wind» is about an unfinished movie. The director Jake Hannaford, played by John Houston, is making a film-within-a-film when the main actor walks out on him, so the film stays unfinished. Jake goes to his villa with his crew and the journalists to celebrate his birthday and joke about movies and Jews; then he dies in a drunk car accident. The story is non-linear, it comes from different angles and points of view, the picture mind-dazzlingly jumps between the countless different cameras. Sometimes it's a reporter's commentary for the imaginary viewer. The main plotline is easy to grasp, but reality splits into a multitude.
The film magician has tricked us again, it's «F for Fake», an Orson Welles' story that rivals the «Evolution is just a theory» nonsense. Yet if «F for Fake» is more or less a normal film, even if weirdly edited and absurd, «The Other Side of the Wind» is much more confusing. The magician is not in there, the magician is the viewer - if he wishes to be.
The plot of the Other Side of the Wind is layered, and yet simple, the picture mostly stands out thanks to a fresh technique and Michel Legrand's soundtrack. The editing and simplistic plot hide the context. John Houston, a director himself, is a parody of both himself and Hemingway. Film-within-a-film parodies the New Hollywood and European cinema of the time. It obviously mocks Zabriskie Point by Antonioni. Houston's young protege is played by Peter Bogdanovich, who was Welles's protege in real life. He was supposed to finish the film after Welles's death as well. This, plus the real production story and the Netflix release, and it becomes some kind of postpostmetametamodernism. Parodies grow in number and converse with each other. Philip Dick would die of envy.
Godard's «Weekend» (1967) gave a similar feel: the characters would meet people from other plays, and despite knowing how unreal their world is, they'd keep it up for the viewer. «End of Story. End of Cinema», he declares. Is it the end of his own absurdism, or of real life?
Orson does not play or experiment like Godard. The Other Side of the Wind is void of absurdism or surrealism. Yes, film-within-a-film is absurd, but that's how parody works. The «normal» film does not taunt the viewer, it is still watchable. It's not Lynch. «The Other Side of the Wind» is about the viewer: the art that does not exist unless it's seen, interpreted. Why should you interpret it if there are better things to do is another matter. It's your agency at work.
Making a film about yourself in which you are making a film about yourself, like in My Winnipeg (2007) - that's just a step too far. Watching for some random context that Welles just could not imagine - it can be fun, yet it's also useless. The dozens of cameramen are a technique, not an end result. «The Other Side of the Wind» is not «Eight and a Half» (1963), it's a satire. It laughs at directors, at film noir, at viewers, critics, cinema lovers, Cahiers du Cinema, at everyone. It's two hours of «The Emperor's (director's) New Clothes». Only the viewer is naked, too.
Apart from satire, The Other Side of the Wind is by itself a discussion with Godard, Antonioni, Fellini, all the masters of the era. The annoying film researcher Pister (played by a real film researcher Joseph McBride) asks John Houston: «Does camera show reality? Or reality is just a reflection of camera image?» It's a reference to Cahiers du Cinema, and Godard himself discusses it in the La Chinoise (1967). Pister also adds «Maybe a lens is a phallus?». It's a stupid cinephile joke, in line with Woody Allen's stand up.
John Houston's character, and Orson Welles with him, refuses to answer: «I need a drink». That's the same character who at the end of the film says you can still young people's life energy by shooting them on tape. Yep, this kind of cliched shamanism. Half the scenes mention the names of directors who used to be famous 40 years ago. Who's going to watch something that lives and breathes 70s in 2020? Let's just all go home. Anton Valsky