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The Other Side of the Wind

After They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018), a documentary by Morgan Neville about the making of Orson Welles’ final production, The Other Side of the Wind, I was eager to see the Welles film. I remember watching Citizen Kane (1941) and Touch of Evil (1958) in university and being blown away. Then, over the years since, the occasional article would rekindle my interest in some mysterious and “missing” picture of his called The Other Side of the Wind, a film he started making in the early 70s and that Netflix ultimately released in 2018, forty-eight years later.

This is a film, at least for me, that needs to be watched twice or more to firmly grasp; there’s just too much going on, in the tale itself and in the cinematic telling of that tale. More than a few scenes felt somehow akin to what Quentin Tarantino has given us—it spoofs Hollywood films (and film-making), with experimental camera work (often paying homage to other directors and cinematographers), lengthy (and also banal) dialogue, a nonlinear storyline, references to and satire of pop culture and Hollywood celebs, and a blend of established, famous actors and lesser-known personalities.

It’s about a Hemingwayesque director named Jake Hannaford (a gruff John Huston) who is making his last film, also entitled The Other Side of the Wind. On the last day of his life, before a fatal car crash, Hannaford arrives at an Arizona ranch for his seventy-year birthday party. He finds himself surrounded by a throng of journalists, one of whom asks if there’s any truth in the rumors about him being a bisexual (remarkably, for the 70s, a recurring theme in the film). Dennis Hopper is at the party, playing, I think, Dennis Hopper, stoned of course. . . .

I'll stop there because the film is just too surreal for me to provide an accurate synopsis and, like I said, it has to be watched at least twice to get a good grip on. There are midgets, mannequins, a film within the film (with an absolutely incredibly shot and intense sex scene in a car), glasses smashing, cool lines, and so, so much more. Any attempt by me to describe the film’s artistry would be bungling and take weeks to pull off. But I'll add that I found it astounding the ingenious Orson Welles was in debt and an independent experimental filmmaker in the end, and—after seeing the documentary—that The Other Side of the Wind was ever completed at all.

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