Archive for The Other Side of the Wind

Incoherence

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 10, 2018 by dcairns

So, Fiona has now finished her viewing of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (or THE ORSON SIDE OF THE WELLES) and pronounced it fascinating, though she’s unsure if it’s major. That uncertainty relates, surely, to the perceptible vagueness of the film’s “plot” — almost all based in character interactions, though the unfinished film at its centre motivates many of these. And the film doesn’t spell these out: why does Hannaford reject Otterlake at the end? (An inversion of Falstaff and Hal, but an exact anticipation of Welles’s spurning of Bogdanovich.) Why does Hannaford kill himself? (The film doesn’t even insist that he does, but we’re invited to think so, and surely a random DUI accident would be an even flatter ending than the suicide of a character Welles called “a miserable prick.”) The fact that Hannaford’s absconded star tricked his way into the movie is set up as a big deal, but what are the psychological implications of this for Hannaford? The film doesn’t come out and tell us.

I’m not ready to call this vagueness a flaw — it’s quite possible that Welles, while rejecting aspects of the new arthouse cinema of Fellini, Antonioni et al — what Pauline Kael called “sick-soul-of-Europe parties” — he might be embracing Pinterish ambiguity. Or he might be struggling to achieve coherence with multiple drafts of a script filmed over years in different countries with some major actors never meeting each other (he’d done that before: OTHELLO, of course, but every time a character turns their back on the camera in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, it’s a stand-in). Or Bob Murawski and the team assembling Welles’s footage may have erred, missed chances at establishing clarity, We can’t assign all the blame or credit to Welles because he only edited five or so sequences, and even those have been rejigged for the finished film.

But against any theory that Welles had lost focus, that the film is shapeless or unresolved, we have to balance things like the matching references to “the magic box” at the beginning and end, and the way the making-of doc shows that when Welles reshot Rich Little’s scenes with Bogdanovich and Bogdanovich’s with Joseph McBride, he duplicated many lines and camera set-ups exactly… There WAS a plan. It may have been incomplete, or lost some of its cohesion along the way, but a lot of this film of accidents was conceived in advance.

Remember, CITIZEN KANE has been described/dismissed as “a labyrinth without a centre” and the famous “Rosebud” punchline may or may not explain anything. Welles LIKED a certain avoidance of clarity, and did everything he could to “take the mickey out of” that film’s solution. Some have complained that the plotting in TOUCH OF EVIL and LADY FROM SHANGHAI is unclear — the former sidelines its murder mystery so thoroughly that the solution can be tossed away in a line by a supporting character, and then we get “What does it matter what you say about people?” The latter was savagely re-edited precisely to impose clarity and add windy explanations so nothing would be in doubt, but the exposition is so overwhelmed by Welles’s visuals that we simply don’t listen. And it ends with a double “Maybe” from the voice-over. AMBERSONS was mutilated, it would seem, because Welles staged a would-be uplifting ending in an un-uplifting (downputting?) manner, and audiences didn’t know how to react. Welles quite often explores areas of conflicted response, notably in the way he’ll turn the villain, especially if played by himself, into the most compelling character.

I can’t help it, it just feels so good to be discussing this film alongside the rest of the oeuvre, at last!

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The Other Side of the Edit

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2018 by dcairns

Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND appears alongside two new documentaries — a wealth of Wellesiana!

THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD is excellent but infuriating. I guess director Morgan Neville decided not to include captions identifying any of his interviewees because we wanted to cut like fury, impersonating Welles’ eccentric choppiness. But it’s a slapworthy offence. Luckily I know who a lot of those people are, but it makes it more annoying when I don’t. The end credits list them all, but Netflix shrinks your window to a tiny box as soon as they start, so damn everybody to hell anyway.

The actual effect of the doc’s slick intercutting is more like the usual opening sequence of a TV doc, where you typically get a lot of provocative and titillating statements designed to lure you into watching — an editor friend described this approach as “chum in the water. Funnily enough, Welles anticipated this with the newsreel in KANE: “…a communist!” “…a fascist!” declare interviewees.

But Neville has impressive resources: he seems empowered to quote from every Welles-directed movie, as well as a host he acted in, plus JAWS and STAR WARS. And he musters them well: to depict the disasters befalling Welles on TOSOTW he shows the film-maker dropping dead in the water at the end of TOUCH OF EVIL *and* in START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME. He can’t resist quoting the drunken champagne ad out-takes, which earns him another slap, but he manages to talk to sworn enemies like Jaglom and Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar and Beatrice Welles, and pretty much every participant in Welles’ movie. Though he shoots them from very eccentric angles. We might be able to draw firmer conclusions about the honesty of Welles co-producer, accused by some of robbing from the budget, were he not reduced to more or less a single eyeball.

And then there’s the wholly unnecessary Alan Cummings*, whose role as a fictional documentarist adds little. He’s often required to criticise Welles, even if statements like “Welles seemed to be going out of his way to alienate everybody” are flatly contradicted by what interviewees have just told us, in footage positioned by Neville himself. What’s he playing at? I do get a bit annoyed at anti-Welles stuff, which this movie has a bit of: the idea that he deliberately avoided finishing his films is floated, yet again, but mercifully trounced by those in the know.

Still, it’s hugely entertaining, and illuminating, and if it’s imperfectly sympathetic to Welles, it’s very considerate to the much-abused Bogdanovich.

Morgan Neville shares a birthday with me: we both turned 18 the day Welles died. (Welles was 70, the same age his fictional alter ego dies at in TOSOTW.)

The other doc, Ryan Suffern’s A FINAL CUT FOR ORSON WELLES: FORTY YEARS IN THE MAKING is more unassuming. It tells some of the story of the film’s eventual completion. All very nice, and hearing Danny Huston talk about dubbing his dad is moving too. The exciting part for me was a discussion about Welles’ quirky approach to editing which clears up a bit of a mystery. Apparently Welles would produce long, rambling assemblies in which he would sometimes include multiple takes of a line or moment. They would be fine-cut, so you would know how long he wanted the moment to run; but you wouldn’t know which was the preferred take. Presumably Welles himself hadn’t decided yet, and wanted to delay the final choice until he had a sense of the surrounding sequence. It makes a kind of sense, though it’s the opposite way round to how most films are cut: we usually select our preferred takes, THEN cut them together.

This quirk may go some way to explaining why Welles took, seemingly, a long time to edit his films. He was delaying some key decisions long past the point most filmmakers would have made a commitment. This lengthy process seems to have resulted in Welles being ejected from MR. ARKADIN’s edit, and had he been naturally faster he might have avoided problems on AMBERSONS, TOUCH OF EVIL and maybe others. But I’m happy to allow himself his unusual approach.

But you see how this clarifies the surprising condition of TOO MUCH JOHNSON? Though, characteristically, it produces new puzzles. When I saw TMJ at Pordenone, I briefly discussed it with the then festival director David Robinson, who was convinced that what had been rediscovered was not the cutting copy but the outtakes. This made partial sense, and had me more or less convinced. Though it was weird that the film was more or less in sequence and showed so many signs of being not only spliced together but intercut and worked on, there was so much repetition, so many takes of nearly everything that it was hard to see it as an actual edit. But now we learn that this was typical of Welles. TMJ is a cutting copy, but a uniquely Wellesian one, containing multitudes.

Of course, that reintroduces the puzzle of how the film came to be found intact in Pordenone (so conveniently!) when we’d been told it was burned to a crisp in Spain. I suppose that might have something to do with Welles being a big fat liar. Bless him.

Still wholeheartedly recommend both pictures and the film they document. Put ’em on a loop!

*Nothing against Cummings per se. I was in a car with him once.

The Sunday Intertitle: Shot Missing

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2018 by dcairns

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.