Archive for The Other Side of the Wind

The Frozen Moment

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2018 by dcairns

I was looking at THE DEVIL’S OWN, the remarkably non-excellent late Alan Pakula thriller, which has a very impressively staged, if overblown and morally indefensible, street battle at the start. Amid all the mayhem, Pakula (and editors Tom Rolf & Dennis Virkler) freeze the action with a quick, beautifully-composed shot of a corpse. It fractures the all-movement flow of the edit and injects an icy feeling that partially redeems the scene from its gung-ho pyrotechnics.

It also rang a bell with me, and I found myself trying to figure out whether Pakula had pinched the idea from some other film I’ve seen.

The first thing that came to mind was this shot from John Milius’s DILLINGER ~

It has a similar look, but it appears at the end of the scene so it has a different, less disruptive effect. I had an instinctive suspicion that there was a common source both Milius and Pakula were swiping from, and I knew that I KNEW that source, if I could but remember it.

I started wondering if, given Milius’s tastes, the answer might be Kurosawa. I remembered these shots, in RAN (another late-ish film, and one ABOUT lateness, old age) ~

Kurosawa intersperses the apocalyptic battle that occurs midway in this film with static snapshots of the slain, their busy, living former comrades hurrying past them in foreground or background. He takes you out of the desperate action and briefly drops you into a more contemplative, restful space. Called death.

But RAN was made some time *after* DILLINGER, so couldn’t be the influence. THE SEVEN SAMURAI seemed a possibility, reminding me that it’s been far too long since I watched it. But I couldn’t actually remember such a shot used in such a way, so that couldn’t be the specific thing I was remembering.

Then I did a class on Orson Welles for my 1st year students, and there it was, in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT ~POSITIVELY the shot I was trying to remember, coming as a sudden, shockingly still interruption of the hand-held chaos of the celebrated and influential Battle of Shrewsbury sequence. By coincidence, the appearance of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND reminds us that Milius and Welles apparently knew each other at least well enough for the latter to parody the former as a character in his movie-world movie. And I can well imagine Milius and Pakula admiring CHIMES enough to borrow an effect without particularly paying attention to what the effect was FOR.

Welles actually pulls this trick twice. Each time, the shot contains furiously racing characters but our eye goes to the face of the fallen man, and the camera’s stillness puts us in sympathy with him, not those running about madly behind him.

But it’s still possible that this touch is to be found in earlier battles by Kurosawa OR — a distinct possibility, this — Eisenstein. If anybody knows for sure, point me in the right direction.

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!

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.