Netflix Releases: The Other Side of the Wind (2018) - Reviewed

Legendary cinema giant Orson Welles felt the aftermath of the controversy surrounding Citizen Kane and the smear campaign launched against it by William Randolph Hearst affecting virtually every single picture he attempted thereafter seated behind the camera in the director’s chair.  Whether due to studio interference such as editors going over his head on The Magnificent Ambersons, the existence of five separate versions of Mr. Arkadin none of which he had final cut on, studio reshoots on Touch of Evil, financing falling through numerous times on Don Quixote and finally the unfinished opus The Other Side of the Wind, Mr. Welles never really had total creative control over his pictures as a director for most of the rest of his life. 

Dodging the studio system regulations to retain final cut, Welles sought financing independently and his productions often resulted in little snippets of footage being shot on one or two endless projects over the years.  The results of trying to maintain creative control while pushing the envelope often left Welles scrambling for money and taking random acting assignments to make ends meet.  Welles’ previous project F for Fake, a kind of mockumentary meta-narrative about art forger Elmyr de Hory, emerged as his last picture he completed on his own as a director without additional interference and paired Welles with his creative and personal partner Oja Kodar who functioned as both a screenwriter and the director’s muse of sorts. 

While working on F for Fake, Welles began shooting and nearly completing what would soon become the director’s most legendarily unfinished film production that came very close to completion initially: The Other Side of the Wind.  With principal photography beginning in 1970 lasting until 1976 off and on in the years between, the film was mostly complete until financing fell through with one of the investors embezzling most of the budget with some ten hours of raw footage, dailies and outtakes left in the cans decades after Welles’ death.  Over the next three decades, Welles’ surviving collaborators attempted amid a heated legal battle with Welles’ estate to finish editing Welles’ footage into a watchable feature film with Showtime dropping in and out at various points before Netflix swooped in and with a team of editors to finally bring the many hours of footage laying around together into a cohesive and coherent feature film. 

An ensemble semi-autobiographical satirical mockumentary including a film within a film, The Other Side of the Wind was to be Welles’ snarky swipe at the current state of the film industry with the film’s aged late protagonist Jake Hannaford (John Huston) trying to muster up financing to finish his last film before killing himself in a car crash.  Starring many film directors as themselves including Dennis Hopper, Henry Jaglom, Claude Chabrol, Paul Mazursky, Cameron Crowe and Les Moonves, the film presents the same faux documentary narrative visual style with abstract editing and utilizing various film formats including color to black and white to create a kaleidoscopic portrait of the machinations of the late 1960s film industry.  Moreover, Welles expands the visual aesthetic even further by including alongside the mockumentary narrative a feature film director Jake Hannaford is working towards completing, shifting aspect ratios and leaping freely between rough 16mm footage and crisp, colorful 35mm footage.

Essentially told over the night in the home of Hannaford as he is surrounded by colleagues, press critics including Susan Strasberg more or less channeling Welles’ arch enemy Pauline Kael, hippies, groupies, bloodthirsty investigative journalists and Hannaford’s own closest protégé played by Peter Bogdanovich, The Other Side of the Wind while murky in motivation provides a glimpse into Welles’ outlook on the state of the film industry surrounding him at the time.  Pitting the so-called ‘Old Hollywood’ of tyrannical filmmaking dinosaurs against the ‘New Hollywood’ of young idealistic go getters, Welles’ protagonist played with typical John Huston gusto more or less provides the film with a megaphone for Welles to speak his own misgivings, fears and desires about his place in the film industry directly to the audience. 

Seen decades later with the surviving footage assembled together following Welles’ production notes, the film plays like a more user-friendly F for Fake as well as a confessional for Welles to vent out his own misgivings about the studio system and all the bells and whistles that come with it.  The average viewer with Citizen Kane fresh in mind will notice similarities between that film’s protagonist and Jake Hannaford though like F for Fake it treads a fine line between pushing the envelope and wallowing in the master filmmaker’s own obsessions and indulgences.  While I myself am not entirely convinced just yet editor Bob Murawski working from Welles’ notes and previously edited footage has fashioned together the late director’s final masterpiece, that they were able to edit this gargantuan personal project together into something watchable and distributable to theaters is nothing short of miraculous. 


- Andrew Kotwicki