Orson Welles Gives Us A Pretentious Middle Finger From The Grave
Every few years brings us a new lost Orson Welles movie. First came a special cut of ‘The Magnificent Ambersons,’ which was the old movie with some stills added in at the end. Rumors abound that the true version exists. Then it became clear that Welles had filmed every Shakespeare play in existence. He was MacBeth combined with Falstaff in real life, don’t you know? Bits and pieces of other movies, like ‘It’s All True,’ emerged. It seemed like ‘F Is For Fake’ was his final gift. But apparently not.
The Other Side Of The Wind, Welles’ final final movie, has begun airing on Netflix. In addition to bringing us the Demogorgon and shows about woke college students, Netflix is now apparently the guardian of our greatest cinematic treasures. Despite many available articles that start off “Peter Bogdanovich rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb” and get hard to understand from there, I decided to skip the press. I wanted to come into this lost masterpiece cold.
As an opening scrawl tells us, Welles worked on The Other Side Of The Wind intermittently for the 20 years leading up to his death. The production, plagued by financial troubles and various insanities, never quite wrapped. Now Bogdanovich and various other Welles acolytes have painstakingly restored and clipped together footage to approximate what they believe to have been Welles’ original vision. It is the vision of a sad, ugly man who believes the world screwed him. Also, he liked boobies.
John Huston plays a tortured genius director working on his latest masterpiece, which is plagued by production problems and a lack of financing. That sounds familiar. Peter Bogdanovich, a younger director and Huston’s protegé who is basically Peter Bogdanovich, gets a lot of screen time, talking. Many grumpy old men, who’ve been with Huston from the beginning, hang around to “help”. The smartest of them sees what’s happening and takes a job producing at Universal. Most of the action occurs at a party at Huston’s desert hideaway, where everyone walks around speaking a hipster patois that’s just shy of Shakespeare-incomprehensible. Approximately sixteen journalists leech on every conversation to make the point that journalists are terrible, when just one would do fine.
An intermittent screening of Huston’s movie, “The Other Side Of The Wind,” takes up a good chunk of the time. In this movie within a movie, a beautiful bronzed woman named “Pocahontas” drifts around naked, followed by a beautiful white man named John. You heard me. Pocahontas doesn’t speak a word but she does do many art-film things like walk through a gender-neutral bathroom while barefoot, slash a wet cloth with a knife, and cut out a doll’s eyes and wear them as earrings. John rides a motorcycle.
I’m not sure if the movie within a movie is supposed to be a parody of a pretentious late-60s, early-70s art film, or if it’s the apotheosis of one of those films. Regardless, I found myself waiting for those scenes. Though they’re ridiculous, they’re shot in brilliant color and are interesting to look at in a sort of perverted way. While the black and white party scenes feel about as sexy as a canasta game, the film footage contains more than one NC-17 sex scene that doesn’t skimp on the details. We never see the man’s face, and certainly don’t see his parts. The male gaze has never been gazier.
Like everything else Orson Welles did, The Other Side Of The Wind imparts misunderstood genius. Huston yells at people and throws glasses of whiskey, as misunderstood geniuses do. He’s haunted by the ghosts of his own incredible mind, and enraged by the unfair commercial demands of Hollywood.
This lovingly refurbished oddity couldn’t possibly appeal to anyone but the snobbiest film snob. Dated, pretentious, and weird, it hearkens back to several cinematic ages that are better-represented elsewhere. Mercifully, it seems that Orson Welles’ last will and testament has arrived. Though I suppose Bogdanovich could exhume Welles’ massive skeleton to gaze up his mentor’s butt one last time. I’m sure there’s a movie in there somewhere.