The Other Side of The Wind...a Reflection of Orson Welles.
The Other Side of The Wind, a film by Orson Welles, his last film, delayed for nearly 40 years, has been released on Netflix. The ultimate auteur director has posthumously revived his career with an oddly captivating criticism of the Hollywood studio system, the insatiable media, indie filmmaking, and most importantly, himself.
To compare The Other Side of the Wind to contemporary cinema is like comparing a Jackson Pollock to a doodle. Film art for art’s sake is nearly lost. The more affordable costs of digital filmmaking may bring artists like Goddard, Bergman, Kubrick, and Kurosawa, back to filmmaking but where will they find their audience, that appreciative coterie of film-loving intellectuals ready to discuss and debate the nuances of symbolism, mythos, and subtext?
Modern audiences are fully aware of film craft, visual and audible components, the believability of special effects, the simulated reality film might deliver, but are they aware of an artist’s intent? Is that even an issue anymore? A post modern film either delights or it does not. It either banks box office or it doesn’t. Are numbers more important than nuance? For Welles that equation cannot be applied. Numbers can’t define him except for a film’s budget. For Welles, money has a chokehold on art. That is the tragedy of The Other Side of the Wind, a fictional director's struggle for funding.
Welles shot his film over six years cajoling, conniving, and charming both businessmen and actors to take part. Writing and rewriting scenes between influxes of capital, filming on a haphazard schedule, often without permission, permits, or insurance, he locked onto his vision for The Other Side of The Wind and refused to let go.
The film itself, a film within a film, a puzzle within a puzzle, tells the story of an older, nearly broke, once revered film director struggling for a last chance to make art, to finish his enigma of a film that seemingly defies explanation. The old director is thwarted by his own demons, moral failings, his unwavering sense of self aggrandizement and genius. On the occasion of his 70th birthday, he imports a dark carnival of film devotees, sycophants, wannabes, and camp followers to his desert ranch to screen his final epic, The Other Side of The Wind.
Welles cast John Huston, the finely grizzled, often pickled legendary director to portray a cracked reflection of Welles himself. Shooting a fictional documentary in black and white on every available film stock and camera, Welles captures the hard ugly truth of his failing protagonist. Footage from his masterpiece, the film within a film, is vividly colorful, filled with lush, etherial imagery. In his black and white reality, there is a stream of chatter and opinions, schemes, betrayals, and corruption, but in the technicolor splendor we are immersed in a world of symbolism, sacred metaphors, and illusion. It is a cinematic Eden that the director himself may no longer be able to enter.
The Other Side of the Wind is stylistically ahead of its time. Both powerful and unnerving, it laments the end of French New Wave, auteur directors, and the art of film. To Orson Welles, the old guard was dying but there was still a glimmer of hope, a torch to be passed, a rebirth delivered by the next generation.