Tag Archives: Orson Welles

The Other Side of the Wind

11 Nov

‘The Other Side of the Wind’: Welles’ final bow is a 1960s trip, an artifact, a triumphant mess

 

Image result for the other side of the wind

Once of the best films you can catch right now, you can’t catch in a theater. It is a new release from an American filmmaking maverick, starring a filmmaking maverick and about a filmmaking maverick. If that sounds recursive, it is, and well-intended – it’s a movie within a movie, and something of an in-your-face takedown of Hollywood, like Robert Altman’s “The Player” in 1992. It’s also got shades of 1960s psychedelic pop (think “The Trip”), gobs of over-sexualized free-love fetish petting by the camera (think “Barbarella”) and, well, the Kardashian butt decades before it became a thing.

The film might offend some, be dismissed by others as a “better left where it was” lesser effort or hailed as masterpiece by more discerning eyes. Still not with me? The late-arriving, posthumous work is Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind,” a project begun in 1970 that was finally this year pulled together, edited and released for theaters in Los Angeles and other cities and for streaming on Netflix with the not-to-be-missed companion documentary “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” by “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” director Morgan Neville – a making-of film doc that’s worthy of comparison with “Burden of Dreams” (1982) and “Hearts of Darkness” (1991). 

“The Other Side of the Wind” is both the name of the (mockumentary) film about a legendary filmmaker making his last film on the last day of his life, and the film being shot, which is loosely but best described as a surreal road lust flick – more on that later. The filmmaker, J. J. Hannaford, is played by John Huston (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The Maltese Falcon”) whose gruff voice and cagey demeanor call to mind Pa Hemingway. His film project’s in financial trouble (as was Welles’, which was financed by the Shah of Iran) and there’s myriad hangers-on including Mercedes McCambridge, Edmund O’Brien, a young Peter Bogdanovich (who would shoot“The Last Picture Show” and more during its filming) as Hannaford’s onset biographer, Geoffrey Land as a Robert Evans-style producer, and Susan Strasberg channeling Pauline Kael for her film critic role.

You can see where where Welles is going with the rambling project, which he shot willy-nilly over the years. At one point, as the documentary tells us, Welles was rooming with Bogdanovich and Cybill Shepherd’s house while shooting. The film within the film stars Welles’ latter-years love, Oja Kodar (co-writer) as simply “The Actress” and TV star Robert Random as a Jim Morrison-looking hunk named John Dale, who says little and mostly provides boy toy pleasure for Kodar’s passion seeker, more metaphorically looking for meaning and her place in the universe. For much of the surreal cutaways, Kodar, a Croatian beauty, appears naked, the camera hanging on her ample posterior. Some of the scenes are brilliantly shot, with a great psychedelic-blues score.

Probably the cheesiest is the bathroom orgy scene, which is lurid and alluring, but then there’s the sex scene in a muscle car when the driver suddenly realizes his girlfriend and a stranger are having sex as he drives. It’s done on a rain-soaked night, shot and edited with a hypnotic eroticism. It’s interesting to learn in the documentary that the car the whole time was stationary, and that the torrential rain was the result of three men with garden hoses – to think back, the scene is even more of a win than initially perceived. The documentary and film deepen each other in unsuspecting ways.

The documentary not only underscores the difficulty Welles had making the film financially (he actually created a shell corporation to game the Shah) but also the struggles the filmmaker had as an outcast from Hollywood, ever tied to his freshman effort, “Citizen Kane” (1941), hailed universally as the greatest movie ever made. 

For those familiar with the works of Welles, “The Other Side of the Wind” is more in line with “F for Fake” (1973) than his more renowned black and white efforts (“A Touch of Evil” and “Chimes at Midnight”). Given his career, it seems fitting that “The Other Side” ultimately made it to the screen. For me it’s an eye-popping wonderment steeped in incredible circumstance. Given the Hollywood history, I was just happy to hear Houston’s indelible voice shouting out direction offscreen to the buxom Kodar, standing in the far off distance of a desert with a phallic something protruding in the fore.

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles

10 Apr

‘Magician’: Welles’ astonishing life, work get doc worthy of auteur’s own struggles

whitespace

Chuck Workman’s elegiac ode to Orson Welles, “Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles,” may be leaden with fondness and nostalgia, but it’s no hagiographic air kiss. The doc, an essential “life and times of,” unfurls with evenhanded curation, painting a poignant portrait of the notoriously plump auteur who at 25 crafted “Citizen Kane,” the film many polls and critics’ lists hail as the greatest ever made. With so much success so early in his career, one would think Welles would have had unlimited opportunity to do whatever he wanted creatively, but as Workman illuminates, that was not the case. Behind the lens of such films as “The Magnificent Ambersons” and “Touch of Evil,” Welles wrangled regularly with studios. His girth and love of food didn’t help, and limited the roles he was offered mostly to portly villains and the like. One such offer, as the morally corrupt dick in “Touch of Evil,” ultimately put Welles in the director chair of what would become tagged as the greatest B-Movie of all cinematic history.

040215i Magician - Orson WellesWorkman, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker in his own right, breaks down the genius of Welles with great care. In one example he neatly dissects the opening of “Touch of Evil” into its innovative use of variable music, lack of credits and the inlaid suspense created by a car with a bomb ticking in its trunk as it rolls though a busy pedestrian way. Fellow directing greats Martin Scorsese, Costa-Gavras and Sydney Pollack pop up as talking heads to espouse respect and admiration for the man who, like Marlon Brando, embraced his later-stage corpulence and need for a buck, shilling Paul Masson wine. Despite many feathers in his cap, Welles still had to struggle to get his visions made, and indie stalwart Richard Linklater (who made the homage “Me and Orson Welles” in 2008) underscores the point by tagging him as “the patron saint of independent filmmakers.”

The most illuminating voice on Welles, however, turns out to be Welles himself. The warm, jovial insights from broad archival footage get deep into the mind behind the ambitious and well-regarded adaptations of “Othello,” “Chimes at Midnight” and “The Trial.” Commenting on the havoc his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast triggered in 1938,  Welles wryly snaps, “I didn’t go to jail, I went to Hollywood.” If there’s one thing evident about Welles as the film builds, it’s his keen awareness of his limits and deep passion for cinematic renderings of the human condition under duress, especially the tragedies penned by the Bard. Hollywood to Welles was a necessary evil to ensure he could make the kinds of films he wanted to make. “I didn’t want money, I wanted control,” he states boldly, adding “Man is a crazy animal” – a postscript seeming directed mostly at himself.