This Orson Welles guy is definitely going places after this one!
Synopsis: The Other Side of the Wind tells the story of famed filmmaker J.J. “Jake” Hannaford, who returns to Hollywood after years in self-exile in Europe with plans to complete work on his own innovative comeback movie. A satire of the classic studio system as well as the new establishment who were shaking things up at the time, Welles’s final film is both a fascinating time capsule of a now-distant era in movie making as well as the long-awaited “new” work from an indisputable master of his craft. (Netflix)
Starring: John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, and Robert Random
Writer: Orson Welles and Oja Kodar
Director: Orson Welles
Running Time: 122mins
Considering the history behind this film, it becomes very easy to appreciate it even more. The whole story is way too long to mention here but if you want to read about it, click here or you can watch its accompanying documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, which will be released on the same day. In terms of this film, it literally comes from a different era. Shot it bits and pieces in the early to mid 1970s, it serves as a time capsule of the filmmaking of yesteryear. This semi-autobiographical film was a character study of sorts that also acted as a commentary of the film industry of the time.
An amalgamation of uncovered production notes and several hundred hours of raw footage, the story was told in a mostly documentary style, focusing on the attempted comeback of famed film director J.J. “Jake” Hannaford (Huston) with his new film also named The Other Side of the Wind. The film would featured snippets of Hannaford’s artsy film throughout. That film starred a James Dean type actor named John Dale (Random) and another female actress (Oja Kodar). That film didn’t make the most sense but maybe it was never supposed to? This was most evident when not even his yes-men could explain the film to those who they sought financing from. Hannaford’s production faced several setbacks including a dwindling budget and his complicated and arguably unhealthy relationship with Dale.
Perhaps a riff on today’s social media culture and reality TV, different film critics, historians, and various journalists followed Hannaford around with their own cameras during the lead-up to his 70th birthday party. Instead of his new film, these caricatures, some played by real people who were asked to play caricatures of themselves, appeared to be more interested in him and his life as well as his style as a filmmaker. Hannaford was an old Hollywood relic (who may or may not be Welles) who smoked and drank a lot without ever losing control of himself who was losing his relevance at the hands of younger up and coming talent such as a young filmmaker named Brooks Otterlake (Bogdanovich). Hannaford took Otterlake under his wing so to speak.
The exact reason why Hannaford never finish his film is debatable though perhaps the reason why Welles never finished the film spoke to the point he was trying to make about Hollywood at the time. There were plenty of deep-seated issues below the surface that were brought up over the course of the film as to why Hannaford never completed his film but it was never really clear as to the real reason why that was the case (though we will probably never know Welles’ real reason). The problem with this was that it took far too long to get there as the story seemed more interested with its Hollywood commentary rather than diving into the character of Hannaford on a deeper level.
The film got much more interesting once it finally reached Hannaford’s party. His intention was to screen his unfinished film in front of his guests with several setbacks serving as bad omens. During the party, Hannaford encouraged his guests to film the party. Seemingly going all over the place, these different perspectives, both metaphorically and literally, created a unique experience as the film jumped between characters by shifting from 16mm to 35mm to even black-and-white and color, each complimenting the other beautifully. The party itself was ultimately Hannaford’s last ditch effort to save his film, however, we already know the outcome.
The score was great and so was the sharp script but the best part of the film was Huston’s performance as Hannaford. He, his beard, his voice, and his many leers were all flawless here in creating a powerful presence that simply fit nicely within the film. He looked sensational in black-and-white. He was compelling to watch throughout though it would have been nice to have seen more of him. Bogdanovich was also great as Ottolake. the closest thing to another character in the film. However, this was Huston’s film as it should be.
Overall, this was a compelling commentary on the film industry of yesteryear told within a character study that couldn’t quite find the right balance between the two, never going deep enough and taking a little too long to get going. John Huston was superb and the sharp script kept things interesting. Nevertheless, it’s still a film that any fan of film needs to see.