Tuesday, November 20, 2018
The Other Side of the Wind
Directed and co-edited by Orson Welles and written by Welles and Oja Kodar, The Other Side of the Wind is the story of the last day in the life of a filmmaker who is trying to complete his comeback film at a screening party. Shot from 1970 to 1976 sporadically, the film that was meant to be Welles’ return to narrative-based filmmaking is a satire of European cinema and New Hollywood as well the Hollywood of old in this multi-layered film that play into the struggles of a man trying to get back in the game. Starring John Huston, Oja Kodar, Bob Random, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Lilli Palmer, Norman Foster, Edmond O’Brien, Mercedes McCambridge, Cameron Mitchell, Paul Stewart, Gregory Sierra, Tonio Stelwart, and Dan Tobin. The Other Side of the Wind is a rapturous and evocative film from Orson Welles.
Set in what would be a man’s last day, the film revolves a filmmaker trying to finish his film entitled The Other Side of the Wind as he would screen at his home for his 70th birthday which would also be a screening party. Surrounded by an entourage that includes his collaborators, a protégé, a documentary film crew, and many others, the man discusses the film and ponders if it will ever be seen to a wide audience. The film’s screenplay by Orson Welles and Oja Kodar does follow a straightforward narrative as it relates to the life of filmmaker J.J. “Jake” Hannaford (John Huston) whose career had been in decline as he’s trying to create a comeback through this film that would be shown as it relates to a young man who meets a mysterious woman as they fall in love and later follow her through a desert. Throughout the course of the film, Hannaford is having a party with this barrage of guests including filmmakers, film buffs, a documentary film crew, Hannaford’s collaborators, colleagues, the mute starlet (Oja Kodar), and film critic/journalist Juliette Riche (Susan Strasberg).
Yet, the one person that is missing which had complicated the final days of production is its star John Dale (Bob Random) whom Hannaford discovered in Acapulco when he saw Dale attempted suicide. Many wondered where Dale is while Hannaford is also trying to get funding to do more work in finishing the film as he even turns to his protégé in filmmaker Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich) for help only for things to fall apart. Especially as those who are part of Hannaford’s entourage including collaborators and close friends try to figure out the man who is starting to unravel through alcohol while contemplating the idea of making a film that he could be proud of.
Welles’ direction is definitely stylized in terms of its presentation where it dwell into many ideas that was prevalent in the 1960s/1970s as it is shot mainly at a house in Phoenix, Arizona as Reseda, California, Beverly Hills at Peter Bogdanovich’s home, Connecticut, France at Welles’ own home, and other locations in Europe and Southwest America. The scenes of Hannaford being documented and having his party is shot in a mixture of black-and-white film stock and color as it’s presented in a 1:37:1 full-frame aspect ratio in a cinema verite style with a documentary film crew often being shown. There’s a looseness to the direction with its usage of hand-held cameras where Welles would play into the raucous atmosphere of the party while including moments of Hannaford’s entourage talking to each other with appearances from filmmakers wanting to meet Hannaford. There are also these moments through the editing by Welles, along with additional work by Bob Murawski in the 2017 edits that was overseen by Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall who was a unit production manager during its filming, which play to the chaos where Welles would create these rapid cuts for the conversations or make a strange transition of a footage shot in black-and-white to a shot in color.
The scenes of Hannaford’s film The Other Side of the Wind is presented in an entirely different aspect ratio in a widescreen format and in full color reminiscent of some of the European art-house films of the 1960s/1970s with Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point being the obvious influence. The usage of the wide shots would play into the striking compositions that play into this air of mystery relating to these two characters played by Random and Kodar as they never say a word in the film. The film The Other Side of the Wind that Hannaford is making has no plot as it is about these two people who meet, meet again at a club, have sex in a car, and then go into the desert for more sex and intrigue. It’s Welles playing up the pretentious elements of European cinema with its methodical approach to long shots and editing as well as the idea that there isn’t much to explain.
Welles would move back and forth into Hannaford’s party and clips of his film as it would deviate more into chaos as the party winds down where Welles’ usage of close-ups and medium shots add to the discomfort that is looming. Even in a moment that involves Hannaford shooting dummies mixed in with these moments of partying from the guests have this bizarre quality that is to represent the sense of loss and uncertainty in Hannaford in his final day. The film’s climax at this empty drive in where Hannaford shows his guest the last portion of his film is to represent a man desperate to show his film but also deal with his own identity as an artist and as a man. Overall, Welles crafts an abstract yet exhilarating about a man’s final day as he tries to show his film to numerous partygoers at his home.
Cinematographer Gary Graver does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of black-and-white film stock to play into some of the elements of the party as well as scenes of characters talking at Hannaford’s home and at the drive-in while the usage of color is vibrant that is most notable in Hannaford’s film with its approach to naturalistic photography. Art director Polly Platt does amazing work with the decayed sets at Hannaford’s film including the club as well as some of the interiors at Hannaford’s home. Costume designer Vincent Marich does nice work with the costumes from the look of the characters in Hannaford’s film including their lack of clothing as well as the array of casual and stylish look of the people at Hannaford’s parties.
Visual effects supervisors Joe Ceballos, John Knoll, and Brian Meanley do terrific work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects as it appear in only a couple of sequences as it relates to some dummies on rocks and a small moment in the film’s finale. Sound editors Scott Millan and Daniel Saxlid do superb work with the sound in capturing all of the spoken dialogue in the film as well as providing a balanced mix by Millan who would also do much of the work from its 2017 post-production period. The film’s music by Michel Legrand is excellent for its jazz-based piano score with elements of somber brass arrangements and a few string-based arrangements as it adds to the sense of melancholia in the film while music supervisor Carter B. Smith help cultivate a music soundtrack that features some rock music as well as jazz and classical that appears in Hannaford’s film and at Hannaford’s home.
The film’s wonderful cast features appearances from filmmakers such as Dennis Hopper, Claude Chabrol, Paul Mazursky, Curtis Harrington, and Henry Jaglom as themselves along with a young Cameron Crowe, Rich Little, Stephane Audran, Les Moonves, Richard Wilson, and George Jessel as party guests. Other noteworthy small roles include Gene Clark as a film projectionist, Howard Grossman as Hannaford’s biographer Charles Higgam, Cathy Lucas as a young admirer of Hannaford in Mavis Henscher, Pat McMahon as the film journalist Marvin P. Fassbender, Geoffrey Land as film studio boss Max David who isn’t fond of what Hannaford has done, Dan Tobin as Dr. Bradley Pease Burroughs whose pupil is Hannaford’s leading man, Robert Aitken as the driver in Hannaford’s film, Tonio Stelwart as Hannaford’s business partner/screenwriter in the Baron, Paul Stewart as Hannaford’s personal assistant Matt Costello, and Gregory Sierra as screenwriter Jack Simon who believes that Hannaford is gay.
Cameron Mitchell and Mercedes McCambridge are terrific in their respective roles as Hannaford’s collaborators in makeup artist Matt “Zimmie” Zimmer and film editor Maggie Noonan who both deal with the craziness of the production with the former being someone often fired and rehired while the latter is more concerned about the final version of the film. Edmond O’Brien is superb as one of Hannaford’s cronies in Pat Mullins who always drinks and say weird things on a megaphone while Lilli Palmer is fantastic as retired actress Zarah Valeska who hosts Hannaford’s party as she talks to the documentary crew about Hannaford. Bob Random is fantastic as Hannaford’s leading man Oscar “John” Dale as a young man Hannaford discovered and cast him for the film only to walk out during production and never return. Oja Kodar is excellent as Hannaford’s unnamed leading lady as this mysterious woman who, like Dale, never speaks throughout the film as she is an object of desire but also something far more intriguing when she appears at the party.
Norman Foster is brilliant as a friend/former child actor of Hannaford who is also an apologist and defender trying to protect his friend’s reputation to a fault while Peter Bogdanovich is amazing as Hannaford’s protégé in filmmaker Brooks Otterlake as a man who worships Hannaford but becomes frustrated by his drinking and lack of progress forcing him to confront the man’s many faults. Susan Strasberg is incredible as film journalist/critic Juliette Riche as a woman who is trying to get some answers from Hannaford about his films as well as try to figure out his newest film which she is seeing for the first time like everyone else. Finally, there’s John Huston in a phenomenal performance as J.J. “Jake” Hannaford as a filmmaker living his final day trying to finish his comeback film and show it to the world while dealing with the lack of funds and support of the film as it’s Huston in one of his finest performance with additional voice-dubbing by his son in actor Danny Huston.
The Other Side of the Wind is a sensational film from Orson Welles. Featuring a great cast, a dazzling mixture of cinematic styles, bizarre mediations of identity and desire, and Michel Legrand’s sumptuous score. It’s a film that is offbeat in its presentation while also challenging in its approach to narrative and ideas about cinema itself. In the end, The Other Side of the Wind is a spectacular film from Orson Welles.
Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming Othello
Related: Zabriskie Point - Orson Welles: The One-Man Band – They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2
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