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.

One reply

  1. James Fillmore says:

    It may not be parodying Antonioni in general, but it’s definitely a parody of “Zabriskie Point.” The scene where Hannaford shoots all those mannequins on the rocks? That’s almost an exact repeat of the “Zabriskie Point” climax — except it actually makes plot sense. In “Zabriskie Point” objects are blown up in Death Valley to randomly signal “capitalism,” very shallowly — like the conversations of Hannaford’s chic banal party guests. And of course the film-within-film motorcyclist is a reference to “Easy Rider” (Hopper himself has a brief cameo in “Wind.”)

    I’m guessing Welles was sick of being told by studios that his films were too “out of touch” with the counterculture…

    The ending here was confusing, but it felt emotionally right. Hannaford leaves the drive-in (“from the comfort of your own cars,” one character says) because what drive-ins represent to Welles are movies made for idle consumption. I disagree (I liked drive-ins!), but I actually put off watching this until I could dim the lights, fire up the big TV, and give it my full undivided attention; I’m glad I did.

    An interesting choice was the Native character, the film-within-film actress, who was insulted with various racist slurs throughout. But it pays off in the scene where Hannaford describes that Hollywood used to be Native land, “then they all…disappeared.” AKA, Hollywood was built on lies & theft, and little has changed.

    Bogdanovich was great, but it was Huston who blew me away. I spent much of the film pondering who else Hannaford was inspired by. Hemingway’s mentioned, and obviously the money/production struggles resemble Welles. I wondered if there might be some Peckinpah in there — he was notoriously prone to hard drinking and arguments with studio heads.

    Then, in that drive-in, the celebrity reporter asks “is it true you’ve slept with your leading actresses who were married to other men?” And it hit me! D’oh!!! Hard-drinking, shoots big game, had famous affairs, filmed on locations all over the world … that’s John Huston! Huston is so good because he isn’t playing himself — he’s playing the character as written. But he brings something of himself to it.

    Great film.

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