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The Other Side of the Wind

Matt Costello: What can I do for you, Ms. Rich?

Julie Rich: You could tell me what’s going on here. Or why.

Matt Costello: I wouldn’t even begin to try.

A chaotic brilliance, a film that divides the cinephiles, the career critics, and the short-span audience members, in its substantive disarray and demand for an attention-span. Although outside traditional expectations, film scholar James Naremore calls the work distinctively Wellesian: “a story told from multiple perspectives, latent/closeted homosexuality, and a smattering of autobiographical elements.” An autobiographical work in once sense, and a social critique in the other: a cross-sectional indictment of the state of filmmaking and its frenetic fandom. 8 1/2 meets Day for Night, with three-fold layering on par with Kaufman’s Adaptation, where the film is filming the filming of the crew and the guests, in a dizzy state of celebration and frustration to view a rough cut of the film destined for Chapter 11. [INSERT SENTENCE]. The sadness of The Last Picture Show displaced no longer with the funeral of Old Hollywood, but the New, and the noise generating machines in the after wake of the Lucas Box Office phenomenon and the offspring that becomes the films of today.

“We are the children of Lucas, not Coppola.” 

The central focus is on the Welles type aging director, Jake Hannaford, who celebrates his last birthday surrounded by incessant lights and sounds of fans and Hollywood moguls. Played by the exceptionally well casted John Huston, who speaks into the substance of the film the crude and crass design of the Hollywood elites, while sharing space with a parallel reel of the art film he’s slowly trying to make, or better yet, create, ex nihilo. For his part, Orson Welles described his final film this way:

“‘The Other Side of the Wind’ is divided into two sections. There is the film, which is made by documentary cameramen, which is the story of the last day of the director’s life. And there is the film, which is made by the director, which has just broken down for lack of funds.”

Huston is no doubt brilliant, weaving through the monotony of youthful appeal and incandescent wisdom of the film industry decline, himself in a state of almost uncanny existential surrender on level with the Mastroianni’s Guido or Servillo’s Jep. His sexual penchant is strangely unclear, seemingly in favor of the inappropriate company of children and alcohol as his life of chauvinism and psychological furniture is dissected by the interrogation of the Pauline Kael-type character. Whatever the cause of his fate at the end, Huston’s seeming self-destructive melancholy and the surrounding probing of others suggests that he would welcome his “corny” undoing.

Knowing what I know about film history, there is enough in Orson’s final film to echo  the sentiments of Bogdanovoch’s Picture Show as the rooted end of an era and the uncertainty that something better will ever come to replace it. Buried and lost is the remains of an art studio artistry with visions independent of the need to mollycoddle the audience’s state of anxiety when the unfolding of events repudiate the instant-generating soma sensations of today’s pop-culture. Certainly, in the words of Eric Kohn (INDIE WIRE), a “[m]essy and meandering, but always in that distinctive Wellesian way that proves his talent was unparalleled even when it fell apart.” To parse through the layering of the film would be the equivalent of dissenting a cat: you can certainly do it but no thing alive will be left in the process. People must see it and experience the quality first hand to fully embrace themselves in collective meditation. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (AV CLUB) is right when he writes that “[w]e’ll be debating it, defending it, reappraising it for a long time to come.”

For now, people need to see the film and its accompanying documentary (They’ll Love Me When I’m Gone) as an apt honorarium to Orson Welles in his drive and humanity. A documentary that almost needs to be seen before the film as its sets the sentimentality and the sheer weight of the film’s importance in place. A piece of filmmaking that rarely reaches the depth of one’s love for cinema.

One of this year’s most indelible pictures.


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