Other Side of the Wind, The: Orson Welles Unfinished Film Finally Shown

Orson Welles troubled feature, The Other Side of the Wind, which was in production for 15 years, and then went into a state of limbo for four decades, was finally publicly unveiled, courtesy of Netflix, as a special event of the 2018 Venice Film Fest.

Before streaming it worldwide, Netflix will release the eagerly-awaited work on November 2, 2018.

Shot in an unconventional style in both color and black-and-white, Welles’ satire contains a narrative-within narrative, replete with references to both Classic Hollywood Cinema and Avant-Garde European Art Film, specifically Antonioni’s English-speaking films, Blow-Up in 1916 and Zabriskie’s Point in 1969. 

The presence of real-life directors, both American and foreign, representing a wide array of talents and styles–from John Huston to Peter Bogdanovich (then film critic, and a year before he made The Last Picture Show) to Paul Mazursky to Claude Chabrol to Henry Jaglom–adds a layer of self-reflexivity at a point in time when Welles career was in severe decline.

In 1970, Welles returns to Hollywood after 15 years of exile, hoping to make a splashy comeback with The Other Side of the Wind.  It didn’t work this way for the genius director, who at age 26 made what’s considered the best American film ever made, Citizen Kane.  Form the start, he was Hollywood’s enfant terrible, recognized as talented but “difficult” filmmaker, which led to his exile and to his becoming Hollywood’s martyred exile victim.

In this John Huston plays Jake Hannaford, an aging Hollywood director (modeled on both Welles and Huston himself) who was killed in a car crash on his 70th birthday. (Ironically, Welles himself died in 1985, when he was 70!)Just before his death, Hannaford was trying to revive his career by making a sensationalistic film with gratuitous sex scenes and graphic violence.

At the time of Hannaford’s party, this trashy faux art picture, titled The Other Side of the Wind, which contains both male and female nudity and violent sex scenes, has been left unfinished after its star, John Daly stormed off the set. 

A screening of some parts of Hannaford’s unfinished feature is arranged in order to get extra-financial financial backing from studio boss Max David. Since Hannaford is absent, the former child star Billy Boyle makes an attempt to describe the film’s contents.

Intercut with the main thread are scenes describing various groups setting out for Hannaford’s 70th birthday party at his Arizona ranch, including Hannaford and his young protégé Brooks Otterlake (Bogdanovich), a young and bright cineaste with talent for mimicking celebrities.

An obnoxious reporter, Mr. Pister, is thrown out of Hannaford’s car after infuriating him. Stranded in the desert, but unfazed, Pister gets on a bus that is taking crew and reporters to Hannaford’s birthday party.

Some journalists are asking invasive questions, concerning Hannaford’s sexuality—has he been a closet homosexual despite displaying in public a macho persona a la Ernest Hemingway/Howard Hawks. Hannaford has been known for seducing the wives and girlfriends of his leading men, but he’s also attracted to the men.

Most notable is the absence of John Dale, Hannaford’s androgynous-looking, leather-clad leading man, whom Hannaford first discovered when Dale attempted suicide by jumping into the Ocean off the Mexican coast.

Meanwhile, guests are shown scenes from the film at Hannaford’s private screening room.  Now drunk, Hannaford breaks down in front of Otterlake, asking for the young director’s help to revive his flagging career, and desperately trying to sober up before returning to the screening room. A power outage interrupts the screening, but the party continues by lantern-light, and eventually moves to an empty drive-in Arizona.

When Dale finally arrives at the party, the drunken Hannaford makes a pass at him only to be rebuffed. Journalist Juliette Riche persists in asking questions about his sexuality, motivating the angry Hannaford to assault her violently.

Numerous technicians, devotees and archivists have painstakingly worked hard to restore the film, so that it would have some consistency and coherence.  To their credits, notes on screen inform us that there is only on missing scene, and half a dozen missing shots.  The end result is a sporadically involving, intermittently dazzling spectacle, but ultimately a puzzle and a curio item. I can only guess what the movie would have been like if Welles finished it himself in the 1970s–or whether he would have liked the restored version. But I highly the recommend that you see the movie, we and film history owe this debt to one of the word’s greatest filmmakers.