Film Corner with Njal Heddle: The Other Side of the Wind

FilmPrepare to be blown away. Er, on both sides, apparently.

The late great Orson Welles began as a giant. He produced arguably the greatest film ever made (Citizen Kane) when he was 26, and continued to reinvent cinema’s golden age as he went from film to film. But as he progressed, he fell. A series of betrayals and a decline in public interest forced him into exile and gigs well below his calibre. But Welles shone through nonetheless. Welles famously began a series of films that were never completed; Don Quixote, The Deep, The Merchant of Venice and the one he was arguably most passionate about, being the film reviewed here.

The Other Side of the Wind was heralded as Welles’ comeback picture, and by himself as his masterpiece, now tragically his last, and 40 years too late. Reconstructed from over 100 hours of shot and scantly edited footage, The Other Side of the Wind shows that Welles may indeed have reinvented the format again had the numerous setbacks hadn’t hindered the production.

The film follows the final day in the life of ageing renegade filmmaker Jake Hannaford (John Huston) as he celebrates the completion of his latest film, The Other Side of the Wind, being documented at every turn by just about everyone around him.

Piecing together a film from fragments is a recipe for disaster, but The Other Side of the Wind is instead a fascinating, brilliantly experimental concoction of cinema. It is the sign of a maestro returning to show the new kids how it should be done (indeed the film parodies the Hollywood New Wave, even casting Peter Bogdanovich as Hannaford’s companion).

Welles, having no previous experience in the mockumentary genre, is at the height of his powers, not so much following a story, more so playing around with dazzling visuals, and creating grand moving art in the process. You may not always follow it, but you’ll be damned if you’re leaving it now. There is a sense of Welles’ career coming full circle, plot-wise, with the film focusing on the life of Hannaford, just as Citizen Kane examined the titular Charles Foster Kane. It’s a subtle hint of Welles being nostalgic, almost laughing at himself in the most meta form of cinematic art.

The film-within-a-film of the title is equally dazzling. Featured prominently alongside Hannaford’s documentary crew, it burns brilliantly coloured and framed imagery right into the mind that you won’t soon forget. And that’s not just because of the vast quantity of nudity on show. A parody of the European art-house genre at the time, it is rife with imagery worthy of Welles and deserves to be intensely studied in every form of art-school.

Huston has a ball playing a pastiche of his very own public image, namely as the Ernest Hemingway of cinema (“That left hook of his was overrated”), all the while overseeing the troubled production of his masterpiece and the feeble minds who just don’t get it.

That’s the real genius of The Other Side of the Wind; it is two films played side-by-side. Both completely different, but flowing seamlessly together. Where Hannaford’s world is frenetic and ever reinventing itself, Hannaford’s film is obscure and unashamedly unique, much like Hannaford himself.

The Other Side of the Wind is an important piece of cinema history finally brought to us after decades since its inception. It is a tale of a director struggling hard to get his genius and vision on the screen. A story of an old dog teaching the young-‘uns new tricks. And that’s both in front of, and behind the camera. But all of it results in a brilliant piece of experimental art that will confuse some and win over many. It’s only a pity that it is a Netflix release, for it deserves to be seen on the biggest screens far and wide.

It’s hard to tell if Welles himself would be proud of the final product, but as far as miracles of cinema go, it’s not bad in the slightest.


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