Monthly Archives: December 2018

First Views: The Other Side of the Wind

The Other Side of the WindMost people think of psychotronic film as lowbrow. I don’t. I’m a film snob. And I love psychotronic film because it is generally the most authentic kind of film. There really isn’t much difference between psychotronic and art film. The difference is usually one of attitude (as well as budget). And the attitude of psychotronic filmmakers is generally better. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I love “art” films. (Note that I compared Death Bed: The Bed That Eats to Cries and Whispers.)

Finally: The Other Side of the Wind

For the last decade, I’ve had only one primary goal in live: to live long enough to see Orson Welles’ last film, The Other Side of the Wind. Indeed, I was not that big a Welles fan until I saw a couple of clips from the film back in the mid-1990s. It shocked me that an artist — late in his life — could create something so unique.

But over the years, I’d given up on the film ever being released. Then, just recently, I saw the following headline at Vox, There’s a New Orson Welles Film, and It’s Streaming on Netflix. I didn’t need to read the article. I just went to Netflix and entered, “The Other Side of the Wind.”

First Look

This is not a review. I’ve only seen the film once (at this writing — I’ve seen it a dozen times now) — and this is a film that needs to be seen multiple times. But even on this first viewing, it was captivating from the first frame.

The Conceit

Most people writing about it are turning it into some kind of psychological portrait of Welles. Maybe it is. Maybe every work of art is that for the artist. But what I took away from the film was its amazing visual palette. And the way Welles justifies this is by making the film about a party where Jake Hannaford (John Huston) is trying to get funds to finish his latest films. Thus, many reporters are there with tape recorders and 16 mm and Super8 cameras.

As a result, we get scenes shot with more than a half-dozen cameras — all of differing quality. Probably even more important, all these canny journalists are creeping around, getting incredibly intimate moments on film — the most heartbreaking are between Hannaford and his protégé Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich). This was shot at a time when Bogdanovich really did feel that Welles had betrayed him and the performance is as raw as you will see.

Film-Within-the-Film

The film-within-the-film is a pretty cliched European art film. According to Wikipedia, it is something of a parody of Michelangelo Antonioni. But whoever wrote that can’t have seen any of his films. It reminds me a lot more of Alejandro Jodorowsky, but that’s a great insult to him. Hannaford’s film seems to have been a general parody of bad art films. It even includes a balloon of a penis that is deflated when the star of the film (Oja Kodar) pricks it. I’m sure that Welles and Kodar (who co-wrote these scenes) must have laughed mightily when they came up with that!

Confusing Ending

What confuses me is the end. From my reading over the years, I understood that the film ended with Hannaford driving his car into the movie screen and dying. Maybe they didn’t have enough coverage — both Welles and Houston are long dead. But maybe I’m just misinterpreting the ending. Hannaford’s last scene is almost heaven-like — or indicating that he is on his way to heaven.

More to Appreciate

As I indicated, I’m going to have to give this film a lot more thought. But on a first viewing, it’s clear that it is up with Welles’ greatest cinematic works: Othello, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, and F for Fake. If you like challenging (or just interesting) films, you must see The Other Side of the Wind.

They’re Us — We’re Them and They’re Us: Film Critics

Owen GleibermanI am never surprised to find another film critic who hates films. Our newest example: Owen Gleiberman — currently film “critic” at Variety but once the film “critic” at Entertainment. It was there back in 1990 that they gave the remake of Night of the Living Dead a “grade” of D+.

Before I get into it, note how arrogant it is for film critics — people who usually know next to nothing about the mechanics of making a film — treating filmmakers as though they were school children. “Well, I’ll give you a B+, Cindy. But Johnny, you clearly didn’t do your homework so I’m giving you a C-!” Pathetic.

Gleiberman’s “Review”

Gleiberman’s entire review is two paragraphs — not even 250 words. And it doesn’t criticize the film! It criticizes Romero’s decision to make it. And as such, it is a perfect example of what I see all the time: the “I wasn’t gonna like this film going in!” review. And that’s fine by me. I’ve never learned a thing from these pretend film critics. But they poison whole oceans of film-goers.

I’m not sure what it is people like Gleiberman think they are doing. Justifying a paycheck? What’s clear is that they don’t love film. And their reviews say everything about them and nothing about the films.

Gleiberman Doesn’t Need to Get His Facts Straight

What really struck me was the end of his review:

By the time one of the characters turns to the camera [Uh, no. -FM] and says of the ghouls, “They’re us — we’re them and they’re us” (Isn’t it about time Romero stopped milking that line?), you want to return to the land of the living.

Really? I’m no Romero expert. I’ve never held the original Night of the Living Dead in such high respect because I had been so terrified by The Last Man on Earth years before I saw it. But I do know his films as well as anyone who likes the genre. (Something Gleiberman probably doesn’t share with me.)

In Dawn of the Dead, Peter says, “They’re us, that’s all; there’s no more room in hell.” Here it is:

And in the remake of Night of the Living Dead, the line obviously alludes to Dawn of the Dead. But it’s quite different, “They’re us! We’re them and they’re us!” As you can see it is said in a totally different context:

Gleiberman Want’s Meaning — But Can’t See It

Keep this in mind when you read what Owen Gleiberman had to say about the original and remake:

The original Night was taken by some to be a statement about the Vietnam War; this one isn’t about anything larger than Romero’s desire to make a buck.

I’ve always found the ending of the original as too facile. Thematically, the remake is much stronger. And that scene was not the one that made it so powerful. The chilling, horrifying line is, “That’s another one for the fire.” If it doesn’t give you chills, you’re dead.

Gleiberman Was Wrong — But Who Cares?

But note: Gleiberman is wrong: Romero didn’t over-use that line. Gleiberman was just so determined to dump all over the remake that he had to make up something to criticize. And in doing so, he completely missed the deep thematic elements of the film.

It’s too bad that film critics can’t be sued for malpractice.

Afterword

I don’t mean to be too hard on Owen Gleiberman. The truth is that looking at his work generally, we share much. But his review of Night of the Living Dead (1990) is an occupational hazard. I’m sure he’s only seen the film once. I’ve seen it a dozen times. I allow myself to sit with films and not rush to judgment. I can hate a film the first time and “get it” the third. So I don’t have to act like Roger Ebert, who spent decades justifying his hatred of Blue Velvet simply because he couldn’t admit that his first review was all about him. And he was wrong. So was Gleiberman. But he’ll never rethink this film. He’s probably more convinced of his perfection than ever.

Who Mourns for Arch Hall?

The Mads Are Back

I just went to see The Mads Are Back (Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff) of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame. They are doing live shows where they riff to low budget films. Last night it was The Choppers — the film Arch Hall Sr made before his more famous Eegah.

As can doubtless be guessed, it was a bittersweet event. The riffing was pretty funny. And the movie itself is quite good. But it is annoying to hear the film referred to as “bad.”

Idiot Hates This Island Earth

To make matters worse, This Island Earth (1955) came up during the Q&A after the film. It was used for MST3K: The Movie. Beaulieu noted that they had to do things to it. (For example, they removed an entire reel so that the film didn’t make much sense.)

The guy sitting next to me muttered, “It still sucked.” I wanted to punch him. This Island Earth is a science fiction classic — well received when released and even better regarded today. As usual, the MST3K crew didn’t like various aspects of it that were intentional like its lack of a standard hero’s plot.

Pandering to Idiots

But this idiot is the target audience for low budget films. It would be trivial to grow this website if my attitude was that these films were bad and only good for a laugh. But I’ve never been interested in writing for idiots.

And there is something that bothers me about anyone involved with MST3K referring to “bad” films: have they ever watched their hosted segments? They are embarrassing — generally worse than any film they riff to.

Show Some Respect

I’d really like it if the people who are using these films to create a different piece of art would show a little respect for the art that they would be nothing without.

But alas, they don’t. I’m not even sure that they know what they mean by bad. It seems to be nothing more than films that aren’t professionally produced dreck.

Toward the end of The Choppers an out-of-focus shot came on and Conniff riffed, “Look, Ed Wood’s taken over.” It got a big laugh because everyone “knows” Wood was a terrible filmmaker. Except his films were always well shot. William C Thompson was usually his cinematographer and he was quite good.

After that shot, there were several minutes of similarly bad coverage. This is almost certainly due to the print and not the way the film was released.

Support Art Especially When Riffing

I know this all sounds very petty, but it does matter. It isn’t that they are making fun of the films. But these films aren’t bad. And I’m really tired of complaints about films that are based on ignorance. (For example, not realizing that Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is a comedy.)

Worst of all, calling such films bad makes artists less likely to try to do anything but the same old thing. And it props up big budget films over personal and exploitation films.

I would gladly watch The Choppers again. I can’t say that of the $50 million Bohemian Rhapsody. Sadly, very few people agree with me. We are a society that cherishes mocking failure, even when there is none to mock.

Read: Pablo Casals on How to Appreciate Art