The Sunday Intertitle: Shot Missing

The film within the film in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is also called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. Welles described it as a film he would never have made — it’s supposed to tell us about its fictional author, Jake Hannaford, played by John Huston, not about Welles. It represents, in other words, a Hollywood has-been’s pathetic attempts to be hip and radical and appeal to the youth audience, and emulate the art cinema of Antonioni and Bergman et al.

An OTHELLO image.

Counter-arguments are available: David Bordwell remarked, reasonably enough, that the film has more in common with colour supplement photography and advertising than with arthouse imagery, though we could carry on that argument to point out that commercials started being influenced by art movies back in the sixties and so maybe a Jake Hannaford movie WOULD look like THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. We know Welles didn’t care for Antonioni’s style and mood and especially pacing (“I’m not a director who like to linger on thing […] Antonioni is the king of it,”) but I don’t think TOSOTW2 is meant as a straight pastiche of Antonionionioni. It could hardly justify the amount of screen time given it in TOSOTW1. Welles seemingly wanted it to be half the movie, according to Jonathan Rosenbaum, but it’s a lot less than that in the Netflix cut.

In spite of the attempts to frame the movie within as a Jake Hannaford film or a sub-Antonioni film, it’s also very much a Welles film. While the framing film has qualities in common with the patchwork style of F FOR FAKE, the inner movie practically quotes THE TRIAL, LADY FROM SHANGHAI and others. It’s full of trick reflections, forced perspective tricks (characters at different distances walking along the same horizon line) and extreme close-ups. If the film parodies arthouse imitations, it’s more in the cack-handed symbolism (giant phalluses destroyed by scissor attack) and the sheer EMPTINESS.

Welles and reflections: LADY FROM SHANGHAI comes to mind, but he was playing with multiple and overlaid images from KANE on.

Welles seems to have nailed the kind of cargo-cult art film gaining a toehold in Hollywood. You might compare TOOTW2 to the movie within a movie that begins STARDUST MEMORIES, which is also a kind of pastiche: the kind of film Woody Allen’s character, Sandy Bates, would make. Depressing, earnest, wearing its influences on its sleeve, aspiring to Bergman and Fellini but not quite making it. But if TOSOTW2 were a real film without a framing narrative to protect us from it, it might be Dennis Hopper’s THE LAST MOVIE (and how apt that Hopper appears here), but also Roger Corman’s THE TRIP (thanks to Noel Vera for pointing this resemblance out) with which it shares four cast members, including Hopper again but also Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg and little Angelo Rossitto, enjoying the wildest party he’s been to since FREAKS. But also Christian Marquand’s gloriously pointless CANDY (1968) which also featured John Huston, and especially CAN HEIRONYMOUS MERKIN EVER FORGET MERCY HUMPPE AND FIND TRUE HAPPINESS? (1969), a truly boggling vanity project from Anthony Newley which shared with the Welles a rare late-career appearance by comedian George Jessel (as “the Presence”).

Oja Kodar and train stations: Welles met her on THE TRIAL, then filmed her on a train for F FOR FAKE.

The movie might also be a rather mean mockery of John Huston’s occasional forays into artiness, but here it seems wide of the mark in a way that suggests Welles wasn’t trying to score a direct hit on his star. Huston did make one, beautiful and arguably empty Euro-art film, A WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH, which is far better than its terrible reputation suggests, but usually when he tried to be stridently “cinematic”, it took the form of photographic experiments like the aureate tinge of REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE or the tinted flashbacks of WISE BLOOD. Though the late career of Huston certainly features some commercial hackwork (ANNIE, PHOBIA) his actual attempts at making good films add up to a remarkably dignified body of work. It’s arguably in his acting roles that he was guilty of trying too hard to be with it (CANDY, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, DE SADE, and on the plus side, CHINATOWN) but he always claimed not to take his acting career remotely seriously, so this might just be a case of him saying “Yes” to anything offered, and ignoring John Carradine’s sound career advice to his sons: “Never do anything you wouldn’t be caught dead doing.”

A frame not in the Netflix cut.

Thanks to the late, much-missed Paul Clipson I was able to see extended versions of Welles’ cut of Oja Kodar wandering around Century City, and running about nude on a movie backlot in a lot of noir stripey shadows, and can confirm that those scenes sustain the attention effortlessly. And the psychedelic club with the ultrawhite toilet full of orgiastic activity is a stunning set-piece, as is the nocturnal car sex scene and the crazy desert bit. Would longer versions have worked in the context of the movie, interrupting the slender narrative of the party sequence with dreamy, plotless interludes? Maybe it would be useful to get Mel Brooks in to pontificate over them, as in THE CRITIC?

As with every posthumous Welles release or discovery, I find myself wanting multiple versions, the way we have several TOUCH OF EVILS, OTHELLOS, ARKADINS. If anyone could ever be said to (a) be large and (b) contain multitudes, surely it was Welles.

5 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Shot Missing”

  1. Joe Dante’s yet-to-be-fulfilled “Passion Project” — “The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes” — is all about the making of “The Trip,” specifically what happened to Roger Corman when he dropped acid.

    Here’s a clip from the ultimate “Cargo Cult” movie which like TOSOTW stars two people who are now dead

  2. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Yeah I didn’t think the film-within-the-film works for the same reason it doesn’t work in most movies-about-movies. I mean the film Lang makes in Contempt doesn’t look promising, nor does the one in Day for Night, or Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore. About the only guy who came at some solution to that problem is Oshima in The Man Who Left His Will On Film, and there it’s just static shots without meaning and a documentary of some kind. Fellini’s 8 1/2 works because they never talk about the actual movie he’s making and Fellini always avoids spelling it out. Robert Aldrich’s Lylah Clare, a horribly flawed but interesting film, actually does have a film-within-the-film with an interesting story, but the execution of that premise overwhelmed all its ideas.

    I think the weakness of the material in TOSOW’s film-within-the-film is one of the reasons for that movie not working entirely. Welles’ dislike and distaste for Antonioni strikes me as weird and almost anxiety-of-influence projection. And his dislike for European arthouse is weird simply because TOSOW is influenced by Godard quite obviously and quite heavily, as Joseph McBride confirms. But then Welles was rarely generous to his descendants and jealous in his praise.

    What does that film tell us about Hannaford? Is it an expression of his inner personality, or is it simply keeping up with new trends? Is the hacky work he did in the old censorship era more personal than this one made in a climate of freedom? None of that is made clear. Should we take that seriously, or as a joke. You could say that is the point or you could say that it’s Welles having it both ways, having the cake, the desert, the champagne and so on. It’s supposed to be about Hannaford’s obsession with John Dale, but most of the footage has Oja Kodar who is made into a thin character and the butt of Hannaford’s most cruel joke.

  3. The movie Guido fails to make in 8 1/2 is like the show in The Band Wagon: you get a description of an overall concept, but most of the specific bits just seem like disconnected chunks of revue.

    “Meet Pamela” in Day For Night is something I would pay not to see. Good cast, but the surrounding film has a better one.

    A strange variant is The French Lieutenant’s Woman, where the movie within the movie is the real story and the framing structure of the making of it, invented for the film as an approximation of the novel’s approach, is by comparison rather weak and flat.

    Do we think Cassavetes was an influence on the improvisational approach, or did Welles just miss out on that and make the error of innovating something that had already been invented?

    Still, I like the film a lot. I was hugely disappointed by Jesus Franco’s mangled version of Don Quixote, couldn’t watch it, but this feels like Welles. The flaws feel Wellesian.

  4. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Cassavetes and Welles were friends as per Bogdanovich and Rosenbaum so it’s possible. A lot of people question how improvisational Cassavetes’ films are on the other hand, since most of it happened during rehearsals which he then worked into dialogues for the actual screenplay he shot. SHADOWS was made that way but not FACES, or Minnie and Moskowitz.

    I like TOSOW on the whole too. I feel the good in that outweighs the weak parts. Huston’s and Bogdanovich’s performance, some of the dialogue, and the overall premise and idea, is interesting. At the same time, I feel that TOSOW needs to be taken as it is, and it’s way too early to start claiming that this is some kind of masterpiece. To me the questions it raises are too much for it to get there yet. This movie challenges our idea of Welles, for good and bad. Welles has mythologized himself, and TOSOW is about that self-mythology. Looking at as some validation or vindication for Welles’ martyred by the system narrative is not doing anyone favors.

  5. I haven’t managed to rewatch the whole film yet due to Netflix repeatedly crashing on me, plus three video essays, a book review, the podcast and the blog, and teaching… But it definitely needs re-viewing.

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