2018 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Admitting that the feeling of being able to say to the nearest cinephile that you just saw the newest Orson Welles movie in 2018 plays heavily into watching “The Other Side of the Wind” is an understatement. Decades have passed since the height of the writer/director’s time, and the possibility of laying eyes of the unfinished work has weighed heavily in film communities near and far. The final product presents itself as an itch that’s been scratched, hovering over inconsistent themes, plot points, and confusing anecdotes. On the other hand, there are specs of brilliance, imagination, and penetrating moments from John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich that make the film all the more exhilarating. Needless to say, the film is a conundrum.
“The Other Side of the Wind,” tells the story of a Hollywood director Jake Hannaford (Huston) who emerges from semi-exile with plans to complete work on an innovative motion picture while being filmed for a documentary on his life.
Walking out, I immediately felt this was made solely for those who admire and revere the iconic Orson Welles. With an opening text that explains its existence, this doesn’t exactly invite a new generation of movie lovers into the world of Welles, or give them any reason to explore some of his other beloved works like “Citizen Kane” and “The Third Man.” The film can be downright infuriating as we see people having a conversation, with dozens of cuts through a two sentence conversation, and you can clearly see they’re not interacting let alone, not even in the same room. You are almost tempted to seek out the original script so you can see what perhaps the film was supposed to be about. The film ends up playing like snippets of other films, never really making a point, or even trying to hide the fact that it doesn’t have one.
If there are bright spots for the viewer to latch onto, it’s the work of John Huston, who delivers and revolutionary performance, even when the script and editing aren’t living up to the actions that are being taken. Huston, who echoes something we might have seen Daniel Day-Lewis capture and hit out of the park if afforded the opportunity today, transfers his entire mind and body into a man who drinks too much and is on the verge of going over the edge. Peter Bogdanovich oozes out of the screen, slithering through the picture like slippery eel before landing on a platform of admiration for Huston’s Jake, which in turn feels very much as admiration to Welles himself. This much makes sense considering Bogdanovich’s career behind the camera which includes the Oscar-winning “The Last Picture Show.”
Wrapped in an enigma, and serving as a co-writer with Welles, Oja Kodar (who was in a romantic relationship with Orson Welles until his death in 1985) seems to be trying to emulate a statement, but the viewer isn’t given the tools to translate. What the result looks like is a misogynistic outlook on women as Kodar parades around 80% of the picture fully naked and performing random sex acts. For her role alone, academics should further examine the purpose and motivation of the film’s narrative structure and beats.
Wall-to-wall music from Michel Legrand keeps the train moving as Bob Murawski‘s editing (with a Welles credit) struggles to find cohesion and a destination. The film features the late Dennis Hopper (who I couldn’t pick out), Oscar-winners Cameron Crowe and Mercedes McCambridge, and cinematographer Michael Ferris in quick in and out roles that play like a “Who’s Who in Classic Hollywood Cinema.”
Netflix seems like an exciting home for the film as I couldn’t peg what person outside of film academics and critics are going to seek this out actively. Imagining that 10 minutes into the movie, the viewer will likely flip to a re-run of “The Office” or “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” for a more pleasant evening, it would be most interesting to see how the casual person that stays until the end, feels about it all.
“The Other Side of the Wind” is distributed by Netflix and opens in theaters and the streaming service on Nov. 2.