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The Other Side Of The Wind

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Mark Suszko
The Other Side Of The Wind
on Nov 2, 2018 at 10:17:28 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Nov 7, 2018 at 9:48:11 pm

Okay, I saw it. Been wanting to see it for years, and very appreciative that Netflix has it.
The new documentary about the movie: "They'll Love Me When I'm Dead", is a true tour-de-force, and I recommend you watch that first.

Because, and I say this as a big Welles fan; "The Other Side Of The Wind" is a Hot Mess. It's highly unconventional and not what I'd call; "accessible" viewing. You're very likely to hate it. At the least, you're likely to ask: "what the...?" a few times. I really felt let down immediately after watching it... but have had some time now to digest and mull over what I saw... and the documentary helps a lot with this.

In a way, this experiment of Orson's presages a format we've gotten used to recently in comedy shows like The Office and Parks & Rec. It's a self-referential movie about the making of a movie, which is not a new idea, in and of itself. But what Welles said he was going for here was to more or less ad-lib the main story, the documentary part, to see what could evolve from it in the edit. An edit that took over seven years to complete.

The movie being made by the John Huston Director character in this plot, is meant by Welles to be a satire of French New Wave art films, particularly those by Antonioni, which Welles hated. Taken on it's own terms, the "Art Film" is very stylishly photographed, but actually goes nowhere; it's deliberately left to be a sort of inkblot test for the movie characters and the audience, as to if it has any real meaning or point. It's all atmosphere and no real story. Since the art film is incomplete, and even projected out of reel order at one point, the audience and the actors in the movie are all driven crazy throughout, trying to impose a meaning on these sequences, one that, if you believe Welles, isn't there in the first place... the whole thing is a joke. At the same time, Welles is satirizing the iconoclastic director, and himself, and the chaotic, random creative process.

"The other side of the movie" is the birthday party/ press conference/ "rushes" screening of the art film at the estate of the Director character. The film has stalled in production and may never be completed, because, due to the tyrannical and twisted behavior of the Director, the leading man has walked off the set, and nobody knows when or if he'll return. The project is on the edge of insolvency and shutdown, a territory not unfamiliar to Welles. At the party, documentarians have been invited to shoot whatever, however they want, and we see the events take shape thru the blizzard of various POV's. The party is full of people parodying famous directors of the era, as well as various studio archetypes, all trying to parse the film and the film-maker. The most dead-on self-referential parody here is Peter Bogdanovich playing essentially himself. Only more so. The mentor/mentee relationship aspect of Huston and Bogdanovich is for me one of the better parts of this movie and would have made a fine stand-alone piece.

The number of POV's here is staggering and sometimes obfuscatory. They are cut into such rapid-fire, short bits, it's like a blizzard of angles and impressions and sound bites, I get a feeling that Orson at one point was going for something along the lines of a Robert Altman type film, where a lot of small stories act like the pixels in a Seurat pointillism painting, adding up to an overall coherent image/narrative. But the pixels here are blurred and disjointed, so it's not so much pointillism any more, but cinematic cubism. If there is such a thing. Another way to look at it is that it's all a POV impression of Orson's life as a celebrity and public figure, assaulted every waking moment by platoons of fans and idiots all clamoring for his attention while alternately stinging him and confronting him or sycophantically fawning over him. Sometimes both at once.

Some bits of the overall project worked for me... I can see the spine of a coherent, conventional plot structure in there... I see actually three conventional movies in there somewhere...but the edit is such a tangled hash, everything's obscured. This was such a long, disjointed production, and Welles tinkered with it continually throughout, you can tell. My impression is that the thing became a bin for a lot of notions and passing life dramas of Orson's to be tossed into, (with a long side-trip into his fascination for his mistress, Oja Kodar,) whether or not they related to the original premise or not, and it suffers from having too many cute little bits thrown in. Welles categorically states, many times, that the film is NOT autobiographical... but it IS allegorical, at least.

This is a movie aimed at the cineastes that Welles himself detested, so, if you're a movie nut who has read up on the history of film, particularly the experimental films of the 60's and 70's, this film may hold your attention. For an average moviegoer of today, absent any context of Welles' oeuvre', I don't think they'll like it or "get it".

I'm still not sure I get all of it, myself. I'd be interested in other people's takes on it. But you might let it marinate in your head a day or so, before you post, because you might change your mind in the interval.

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