Review: The Other Side of the Wind
The loss of Orson Welles in 1985 was monumental. Not only did we lose a singular filmmaker, we lost one of the great raconteurs. A man who could spin a yarn with the best of them in pictures or otherwise, even if the funding never really came through. His final film, The Other Side of the Wind, was unfinished at the time of his death. Welles spent the last fifteen years of his life working on it, editing it in between other unrealized projects. Most never thought this movie would see the light of day, but now after more than 30 years, with the discovery of film reels in a Paris vault, and a generous push by Netflix, it's here, and it's fantastic.
Clearly a labor of love by all involved, the final construction of the picture is the stuff of legend. After various crowdfunding campaigns, Netflix swooped in with an additional $5 million to pay for editing and completion of the picture. Years of work and campaigning by co-star Peter Bogdanovich and company has finally come to fruition. After a summer of film festival runs, The Other Side of the Wind is currently streaming on Netflix for all to see.
One of the most enthralling "party" movies ever made, The Other Side of the Wind takes place on the last day of exiled filmmaker Jake Hannaford's life. That's not a spoiler by the way, but a main part of this film's lore going back to interviews with Welles. Hannaford, played with venom and relish by legendary director/actor John Huston, is a vile creation by Welles. Drunk, foul-mouthed, and violent, Hannaford stalks his birthday party as he does his film sets; with reckless abandon. Surrounded, much like Welles at the time, by a band of acolytes and sycophants, he compares himself to God in one pivotal scene. Those hangers-on are a parade of screen legends and character actors including Bogdanovich, Norman Foster, and Dennis Hopper, amongst others.
Hannaford comes across as a villain but his nemesis throughout, a film critic played by Susan Strasberg, puts up a hell of a fight. Not content to lob the typical softballs Hannaford is no doubt used to, she hits hard with questions of infidelity and worse. Strasberg is fantastic here as both a foil and as an audience cypher, just as lost in this whole mess as we are. Hannaford's errand boy or errand man, as it were, is given humanity and heart by Norman Foster, who outside of Huston, gives the standout performance here. An actor and director in his own right, Foster is given the run-around more than once, heckled and doing whatever his boss tells him to. If not for Robert Random's role as would-be movie star John Dale, he would be the most tragic figure in this story.
Random, as Dale, the star of the film within a film also called The Other Side of the Wind is a true lost soul. A “rising star” caught up in a world he doesn't understand, there's a sense of melancholy that hangs over his sequences. His scenes opposite Oja Kodar, the real life muse of Welles, are simultaneously visually stunning, filled with rampant misogyny, and years ahead of their time. Welles was always one step ahead of the curve, whether it was the deep focus of Citizen Kane, the opening tracking shot of Touch of Evil, or the frenetic editing of his "documentary" F for Fake, the prowess on display here is astounding. Cross-fades, intercut plates, and all manner of smoke and mirrors are used to great effect, making it something to behold. Add in a catchy jazz score by Michel Legrand, Welles’s F for Fake composer, and the entire endeavor has a breezy attitude, no matter how dark the material gets.
Casual audiences probably won't get much out of it in the end, but the entire endeavor is nothing short of miraculous. A film that many thought would never exist, indeed does, and fans of Welles should rejoice. The Other Side of the Wind shockingly lives up to decades of intrigue and hype, and if you're on its level, is another masterwork by one of the original legends of cinema.