Directed by Orson Welles
So Orson Welles finally came around and made a Netflix movie. Okay that’s the joke, I know it’s already well-tread, but still, it’s kind of crazy to see something like this, right?
The Other Side of the Wind was shot on and off between 1970 and 1976, and a lot had to happen to get it finally released. There’s probably a lot to say about the production of the film, but I only know so much, and anyways enough articles have been written about that already.
As a film, this is made in the same style as Welles’ F for Fake (1973), another mockumentary of sorts which called attention to the medium itself and made use of many different layers of storytelling. In that film Welles talked directly to the camera and similarly had a film within a film that followed around his then girlfriend Oda Kojar, who has a lot of silent screen time here in a film within a film.
The Other Side of the Wind tells a story about an aging, broke director (played by legendary director John Huston) as told by the man himself as well as by those around him, most noteworthy a sort of doting assistant played by another esteemed director, Peter Bogdanovich. This dynamic harkens back to Bogdanovich’s own first film, Targets (1968) which made similar use of Los Angeles, drive in theaters and in which the director himself played one of the main characters who was very attentive to the needs of an aging Hollywood legend.
The last movie comparison I have, because I can’t help but list them all out, is Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970), a film which was just as chaotic as this one and made similar use of what looks to be Joshua Tree or something like it.
Using these three films as reference points, The Other Side of the Wind is firmly entrenched in the radical style of filmmaking in the 1970s. There’s enough of a story to hold your attention, but you get the sense pretty quickly that the literal text isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
The story of the aging director, Jake Hannaford (Huston), is split up by glimpses into the film he is making, or struggling to make, which involves a meandering narrative and a lot of nudity. In that film, Kojar seduces and then seems to just chase after a long-haired young man on a motorcycle. They have sex in a car in one of the strangest, most disturbing scenes I’ve seen in a while, and then they just kind of wander through the shooting areas of studio lots before breaking the fourth wall altogether when the long-haired character/actor gets fed up and leaves.
It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not here, really just because none of it is real. In Hannaford’s story there are cameras all around him, and oftentimes we see one or more of the other cameras in frame. In the film he’s making, we’re led to think either that he just kept filming even when the actor became uncomfortable and stormed off set (it’s cut into his film, in between text that reads “SHOT MISSING”) or that the character himself became self-aware and broke through the medium. Or something.
The point is that there are many layers, none of which are very grounded in reality. It seems to me, if I can trust the narrative, that the actor playing the long-haired man was killed, and thus filming could not be completed. Still, Hannaford remained stubborn that he could get the job done even if he didn’t have a workable plan. As one of the producers says, he’s done it before with no plan.
Hananford is most clearly a stand in for Orson Welles, himself having fallen from great heights (Citizen Kane in 1941 to mostly out of the Hollywood system twenty years later), but the lines here are blurred because the actor playing him, John Huston, was a legendary director in his own right, and the film makes use of other well-known directors including Peter Bogdanovich (who I believe had as close a relationship with Welles as he seems to have with Hannaford) and Dennis Hopper.
So The Other Side of the Wind makes good use of imagery we’ve become used to, whether that’s the work of other radical filmmakers, Jean-Luc Godard in addition to Antonioni, or just famous faces. He seems to borrow from people and movies to remix and comment on our own expectations of narrative cinema and the more radical elements of society.
I’m sure there’s a lot else going on that I’ve missed or am just not able to comment on, but at the same time it seems all for naught. The film asks us early on to question what these images mean. First if they can be trusted but more than that what the significance could be. No matter how grand they may seem or how much value we instill in them (because of Welles’ perceived genius), they are still the work of one man (at least if you buy the auteur theory) and one man’s experience. It’s clear that Welles has gone down some kind of rabbit hole and is toying with a lot of ideas, but this is still just going back to his own experience, in the world and in the movie industry. Maybe it’s just that he was so successful that he knew he could do whatever he wanted, and so he did.
Up Next: The Chase (1966), Dead Ringer (1964), Pay It Forward (2000)