I have seen The Other Side of the Wind

I took Netflix up on their “first month free” offer to do it. It’s really at least my second month, because I did this before in order to see Community. I kept the service for a few months that time, and may do so again — they deserve something for finishing THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.

It stars Noah Cross, Sammy Michaels, Sally Groves, Marty ‘Fats’ Murdock, Emma Small, Max Morlan, Carl Evello, George Washington Cohen, Frank Booth, the Masterblaster. Yes, some of those are quite obscure, but they are almost as obscure, some of them, when called by their right names. It’s a very odd cast, made up of people Welles had met and liked, or worked with in the distant past, anyone he could lure into his web. In this film structured around an unending party in which every hand seems to come clutching its own whisky glass and cigar, the real-life alcoholics abound: if you’re acting with Welles, your career/life must be in trouble.

I think it’s fantastic. While I was watching it, I was already fantasising about watching it AGAIN. Instead I watched one of the making-of documentaries, the erratic but fascinating THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD. But I still have a fantasy about rewatching it every day of my free Netflix month. That seems quite appealing.

All those actors. Welles gets variable results from them, but it’s a variable film in every way. And he was never a great unity guy — what school of performance unites Joseph Cotten, Welles, Everett Sloane and the hyperventilating Erskine Sandford of CITIZEN KANE, and yet there they were in one scene. Here we have striking, delicate work from Dan Tobin and Tonio Selwart, who both look like scarecrow cadavers but do beautiful things, jostling against Edmund O’Brien, who is just a big drunk (“Eddie is a magnificent ruin,” said Welles, perhaps missing an irony?) but certainly REAL. We get into stranger territory with Norman Foster, a lousy, charmless second-string leading man in the early thirties, who became a fairly good, peppy director in the forties, helming JOURNEY INTO FEAR for Welles at RKO, then returning to acting for a few things in the 70s, including this. I find it hard to assess his performance, which seems to draw upon the pathos of his oddly young/old face and his uncertainty (about how to say a line; about what the hell’s going on) to create a synthesis of good acting, bad acting and non-acting. His abused flunky character is basically Joseph Calleia from TOUCH OF EVIL, but with Hank Quinlan’s sweeties addiction (“It’s either the candy or the hooch,”) and I found myself enjoying him but not knowing whether to feel more sorry for the actor or the character, and unsure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that he never lived to see the movie.

Cameron Mitchell is awfully good — another drinker, one who seems to have been in more posthumous films than anybody (I guess a hard-working agent got him cameos in whatever cheapo production was rolling, including this. And I guess he’s playing some version of Welles’ pet make-up genius, Maurice Seiderman.

A lot of these excellent people are redundant in story terms, scene-swellers as well as scotch-swiggers. The magnificent Mercedes McCambridge doesn’t really have any dramatic material to work with, just exposition delivered with a world-weary or universe-weary gloom. But they had to create a convincingly populated party. The fleeting glimpses of Dennis Hopper, Curtis Harrington, Paul Mazursky, Henry Jaglom et al really help sell this.

The leads, of course, hold it together: Huston (with son Danny voicing some lines: you’d never know) and Bogdanovich are terrific. All kinds of real-life tensions perhaps in play, with Welles perhaps resenting his leads’ success as Hollywood directors — and even if it wasn’t like that, the casting invites us to imagine it.

This is a party filmed at multiple locations over years, with actors coming and going (Rich Little, ejected from his leading role, still turns up in the background) and using a deliberate patchwork of film stocks (it looks BEAUTIFUL) — cohesion would seem like a drunkard’s dream, and yet it hangs together. The mockumentary angle should disintegrate at once, since you can’t imagine some of these scenes being enacted in sight of a camera, but the movie lets us forget the device whenever it needs to, reminds us of it when appropriate. We have to praise Bob Murawski to the skies and beyond for cutting the movie in a way that seamlessly matches the few scenes Welles had already put together: a jagged, frazzled, jazzy frenzy (Fiona got tired out and went to bed midway, but wants to come back and see it all).

It IS enervating and exhausting — it has an authentic long-party feeling, trundling on past the point anyone wants, fuelled by inebriated inertia. We’re all going to regret this.


13 Responses to “I have seen The Other Side of the Wind”

  1. “The magnificent Mercedes McCambridge doesn’t really have any dramatic material to work with, just exposition delivered with a world-weary or universe-weary gloom.” That’s the way it is for EVERYONE in this tedious hot mess of a movie. We should be grateful that so many hands worked long and hard at assembling this thing for the record. But in the last analysis Welles didn’t have a movie — just a premise for one. Make no mistake I love his work, and because of that looked forward to this greatly. But Welles fails to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. His self-anointed role — played off-screen for decades — as the Great Martyred Master Hollywood refused to help is more fraudulent than a canvas by Elmyr. With no script, no budget and no production schedule how did he expect anyone was going to finance this thing? The fragment he screened at the AFI tribute — where he hoped to get backing — are all here and just as decorative as they were decades ago. But there’s no movie! Just a Myth of one.

  2. Here’s the unfinished “Filming The Trial” I’m in it towards the end

  3. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    TOSOW is more or less Welles putting his real-self in all its ugliness and truth for everyone to see. I think he really was resentful of Huston and Bogdanovich, if his petty comments to Jaglom around the same era is anything to go by. TOSOW is his bleakest film and it is nihilistic about cinema, and Hollywood, and art. Still it’s also a movie where he gives his critics his due. Like Susan Strasberg is a send-up of Pauline Kael but she comes across as a more rounded character and I think Strasberg’s character is certainly intended to be respected for her viewpoint. The movie is basically about cinema and the life of cinema, both that of film directors and cinephiles and that’s how I related to it.

    I do agree that the film is a mess, and it remains an essentially incomplete work. Welles in the 70s was basically improvising stuff out of nothing and working in a totally free-flowing way. Today Welles would probably operate out of youtube or something. The only time that approached worked was F FOR FAKE, a spontaneous film improvised out of the Reichenbach’s documentary going belly-up thanks to the Irving-Hughes documentary. But it didn’t work in TOSOW because the circumstances didn’t allow it, mostly because Reichenbach had already done the groundwork and gotten the money and crew and people in place for F for Fake.

    TOSOW is the only Welles film based on an entirely original story by Welles, which he basically made by himself out of his own personal life. The idea of Kane was germinated by Mankiewicz and Hearst, Mr. Arkadin was basically a spin-off of the Harry Lime radio show. Other Side of the Wind is all on him. And I think it’s interesting because of the controversy about his difficulty in being autobiographical and owning to his past, that Robert Carringer put out controversially in his introduction to Magnificent Ambersons.

  4. I think Welles claimed he came up with the Arkadin plot FOR the radio show, which would make it an original of his. He did say that was the only plot he ever invented, and the lack of one in TOSOTW is apparent. Well, there are some plot developments along the way, there’s PART of a plot.

    Fascinating to compare it to We Can’t Go Home Again by Welles’ fellow Wisconsonite Nick Ray. Both are free-form multi-media adventures made with a troupe of acolytes/students, and in some way both take their approach from a refusal or inability to make hard decisions about form and content. But I find TOSOTW *inestimably* better and more enjoyable.

    Agree that it’s sort of unfair to judge Welles’ success or failure based on this cut, even though it does a fine job of imitating his cutting style. His overall plan for the movie (with the movie within in taking up half the runtime) was even more radical than what we see here.

  5. “We Can’t Go Home Again” is an excellent point of comparison. But Ray’s was a student film supervised (more or less) by a discarded Hollywood veteran. The mess it makes is far less marked than that of TOSOTW in which all sorts of Hollywood veterans (now all alas dead) were dragged in to give it gravitas.

    I don’t see “F For Fake” as “spontaneous” at all. Having discovered Clifford Irving in Reichenbach’s footage of Elmyr he set about making a real film, albeit a curious one in that it’s a film-essay. Points are made about art, fakery and his own career with exceptional clarity in it. TOSOTW has none of this.

    To me what’s saddest about TOSOTW is Gary Graver’s devotion to it. He spent the better part of his career working on a film he would never live to see.

  6. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I actually think Jack Hannaford is inspired by Nicholas Ray. I mean John Dale the actor who Hannaford has a crush is clearly based on Dean. And Hannaford seducing his cast is something Ray did during the making of Rebel, and given that Welles as revealed in TOSOW and that Jaglom book was secretly a gossip-hound and that he claimed in interviews to dislike Ray, I think it’s based on him (as well as Ford, Huston, and other old-timers). The anecdote about buying a car for them is something that Dean did for Ray, which the latter never rode again after he died. I haven’t seen We Can’t Go Home Again yet…but to me TOSOW in terms of subject is closer to ”Lightning Over Water”, since Wenders-Ray echo the dynamic between Hannaford-Otterlake, and in that film, Nicholas Ray is self-consciously aware that he is making the film to distract himself from the fact that he is going to die very soon and wants to die the death of a film-maker. That’s serendipitous

    The key line for me is the reference to “that old vaudeville act, Murnau and Dean”. Both Murnau and Dean died in car crashes before the premier of their final films. And Hannaford dies in a car accident, albeit his film is incomplete unlike Murnau and Dean. The movie is about cinema and cinephilia in particular being a form of necrophilia, the worship of images of the past, of dead people and dead times. And that metaphor goes dark thanks to that creepy speech where Hannaford talks about “the old honkey pioneers” committing a genocide on the native tribes who inhabited Hollywood before it became a movietown.

    TOSOW is Welles’ bleakest film. There’s nothing redeeming about any of the characters, about cinema, and Hollywood. Everyone’s fake and hollow. Everyone betrays each other. And in a way the film’s form and its messiness reflects that. Welles is basically confessing that he swallowed and devoured people for his art. The final line of the film where Hannaford says, “All the girls and boys. Shoot them dead.”

  7. Ray may have wanted Dean, but he got Sal Mineo. “Hanneford” in TOSOTW was I believe inspired by John Ford, who Maureen O’Hara once caught coming on to Tyrone Power.

  8. No way would Hannaford have that name if he wasn’t Ford. But he’s also Welles, Huston, Ray I guess via the Dean connection, and he also continues Welles’ Barrymore obsession via the Shakespearian background. And of course Hemingway.

    I like the idea that the “Murnau and Dean” line is key, because it means Georgie Jessel is of Central Importance.

  9. George Jessel was central to “Reds” too.

  10. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I think Ford is relevant because Welles considered him his mentor, and he kept saying Stagecoach was the film he screened over and over again when he made Kane.

    I feel that Hannaford and Brooks Otterlake (Bogdanovich) are both aspects of Welles. Otterlake is the young Welles who met Renoir, Ford and others in parties before and after he made Kane…while Hannaford also represents the older Welles who had become master for Bogdanovich. The cycle of exploitation and inspiration is what binds the two characters, which also replays the Hal-Falstaff betrayal from Chimes.

    At one point characters suggest that Otterlake is like the young Hannaford and someday he will be like him. Thanks to the restoration with Bogdanovich’s newly recorded opening narration as Otterlake at the start, this seems to have happened. So there’s an additional layer of poignancy in that.

  11. It’s akin to Chimes, but MUCH more bitter and nasty. Welles clearly did not love Hannaford the way he loved Falstaff — or John Ford, or at least his vision of Ford (not sure they had much of a personal relationship). “It’s a film about a miserable prick,” he told Huston. “It’s about us!”

  12. C. Jerry Kutner Says:

    I figured out all your character names except for the Masterblaster. Who he?

  13. Little Angelo Rossitto in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Technically he’s just the Master in that film, but when he’s attached to a big guy he’s Masterblaster.

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