Well sirs, Friday night at our weekly Movie Night we did what I’m sure many in the country were doing if they were Netflix subscribers: we took part in basically a World-Wide Premiere of that odd anomaly that has happened far more than once in the last thirty years…….a new Orson Welles movie.
Not just ANY new Orson Welles movie, the Orson Welles movie that has been on our minds for more than forty years, a movie we knew about more than most because much of it was being shot in our neck of the woods, and we knew people who had worked on it, and over the years it’s legend grew as we hoped Welles would get it finished and released while he was still alive, and our hopes were whetted by tasty tidbits of it that sneaked out that made us want to see more, then after Welles was gone, we continued to hear news of more hopeful, then failed attempts to get it completed, and then we heard more gossip that it was never really completed and it was a total mess and no one, not even Welles , could have put together a real movie from it, and yadda-yadda-yadda----Shah of Iran’s Brother owned half of it------Oja Kodar won’t let the negative go----Showtime’s gonna underwrite it---no they’re not, it’s going nowhere---Netflix might underwrite it----yadda,yadda,yadda--------.
Forty years plus later, here it is, in our living room.
Our group filed into our usual places in the screening room, loaded down with pastrami sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, before we began, we cracked open an appropriate bottle of Paul Masson Madeira and toasted Orson and what we were finally about to see, then the lights went down….
So, was it any good?
Yeah, it was God-Damned terrific, I enjoyed the hell out of it, I loved it.
After all the noise, the bullshit, the in-fighting, and the nay-saying, and then what had to be undeniably hard work to put the thing together after all these years……there really was a movie there.
And not just any movie, a brilliant movie, made against all odds, by a filmmaker so shunned, stunted, back-bit at every turn, that it basically had to be made on the sly, on a shoestring, shot with short-ends and an unpaid crew over years, and it’s bloody dazzling, with a cast of brilliant ghosts, a group of great, long-gone actors who all suddenly have an amazing new imdb credit on their filmography. It was odd to see them , in what is basically a “new” movie, it is perhaps the closest I will ever get to what Harlan Ellison described in his short story JEFFTY IS FIVE with the strange kid who gets to see new movies with old stars from the past, but here among others was Edmund O’Brien, John Carroll, Paul Stewart, Mercedes McCambridge, Lilli Palmer, Norman Foster, Cameron Mitchell and John Huston fer cryin’ out loud------- all giving us great new performances.
And the irony is that the timing on the emergence of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND could not be better, because now after all the nonsense that has been written about Welles both in his later years and the forty-plus years hence, and more and more of his unfinished and generally-hard-to see later works have become more accessible, what he is saying in this film about all the abuse he and the other older directors felt in their later years from the industry, the critics, the “historians” and the general film nerdom at large, becomes even more what Welles may have intended it to be all along: a strong, beautiful, massive middle finger from the grave.
Many scores are so beautifully settled here: Fuck you Charles Higham, Fuck You Pauline Kael, your published attempts to wound Welles in hopes of building up yourselves eventually were in vain, whatever deals you may have cost him, whatever personal pain you may have given him, you never could stop the talent, continue he did, making films any way he could, and as we can see now, brilliantly. Today, when your bullshit has been consigned to the dollar bins at the Goodwill Book Store, his brilliance shines even brighter. You failed, and will deservedly be forgotten.
Fuck You to all the stupid movie execs who wouldn’t give Welles the time of day in the 1970’s, as the “new age” of independent filmmaking and the death of the studio system actually made it even harder for Welles to sell a project to a major studio. And Welles also gives a nice finger to the young bucks making “art” films at the time, WIND’s film-withn-a-film is both a wonderful takedown of films like Antonioni’s ZABRISKIE POINT and proof that Welles could make that sort of crap even better and more interesting, if he so felt the urge.
And while we’re sending fuck you’s to the Industry leaders of the 70’s, here’s a special fuck you to Steven Spielberg, who, in the days when he could have put the budget for an Orson Welles movie on his credit-card, turned Orson down flat when he came begging, he even stuck Orson with the Mai Maison bill for lunch, and his money-saturated overblown megabusters made Hollywood crave nothing more, making it even harder for Orson to get a picture made into the 80’s. I would trade OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND for all the Spielburgian filmography, from his numerous “stupid white people meet the mechanical lizards” movies to his non-clothed emperor Oscar begs. I’m glad Frank Marshall finally has his name on a worthwhile project.
And finally, a nice big, wide, fuck-you swath to so much of the academic, critical, and generally film-geek population, internerds et all, who have cluelessly tried to dissect and explain talents so far greater than your own as to be near-different species of animal life, Welles has suffered much of it, and it still goes on today, even over this film. I looked over at the usually mindless Nitwitvile just this last week to see their denizens in their synchronized stupidity declare that Orson Welles was his own worst enemy (well, you certainly can’t say Nitwitvile is its own worst enemy-------not while I’m around). In WIND, Welles has this group pegged like butterflies on pasteboard as the pretentious yammering parasitical idiots they were and are, you can run WIND on a double bill with Woody Allen’s STARDUST MEMORIES if you want the true depiction of the film nerd standard of the late 20th-early 21st Centuries. You have been preserved in art for eternities, this is what the people who do think of the people who can’t.
And yet, amid all of this cinematic flashing of half of a peace sign, one realizes a needs to bestow a blessing or two as well : bless you Oja Kodar, probably more than anyone else who stood by and with Orson Welles in those difficult later years, you may have indeed been the muse who kept him inspired, hopeful, plugged-in, remaining in the fight, and probably alive longer than he would have been otherwise. It’s obvious from the way he films you in both WIND and F FOR FAKE that he worshipped you, and from what we see we determine that Orson did pretty damn well for an old fat guy.
And bless all the others who stood by and with Welles in putting his dreams on film against near-impossible odds, from cinematographer Gary Graver to all the other crew and that incredible cast that OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND offers. We know you all spent long hours (hours? Hell-----years!), and many probably never got paid, certainly not what it was worth. Can you imagine what that line-up of acting talent would have cost on a major studio production , even if they were astute enough to have attempted to put them all together? Yet when Orson called, you came, with all the betrayal Orson Welles received in his life, he also received great loyalty from some pretty incredible people. Great talent recognizes great talent, you didn’t let him down, and he didn’t let you down, you were all wonderful in it.
And yes------I guess---we have to give a bless you to Peter Bogdanovich; though your talent has never justified your ego, and I’m sure that Hanneford/Otterlake relationship was just the tip of the iceberg compared to what happened in real life, yet you were one of the ones along with Oja Kodar, Frank Marshall, Joe McBride, and others who determined to see this picture through its forty-year plus struggle to exist, and you played a part in it that makes you not smell of roses. You’ve earned what little slice of immortality this role will give you.
A final bless you to Filip Jan Rymzsa, who waded into this lengthy debacle late and managed to sort out the warring factions and finally put the film to bed before time ran out, it had to be a hell of a ride, and you got abuse from the internerds when things got rocky, but you got it done, when so many had failed before you. Bravo.
I have been an unabashed, unashamed, and unapologetic Orson Welles fan for most of my life, and that is for the one simple reason that as a filmmaker, actor, conversationalist, et cetera, he has never disappointed me . While I have favorites over less-so, every film he ever made, under whatever circumstances, no matter how corrupted by others, never failed to interest, engage, enthrall, enrich, and entertain the hell out of me. Whenever he shows up in anything, be it someone else’s film, talk show, television commercial, or as disembodied narrator, it immediately gets more interesting. As I have studied his incredibly complicated and diverse life and career, I can only shake my head in sheer amazement at what he was able to create, under the most impossible of conditions, in virtually every media the Twentieth Century managed to invent. I would also shake my head vigorously at with the urge to slap silly every idiot critic or film nerd who would opine that Welles never did much after CITIZEN KANE or made a fat joke.
Well, Orson Welles has indeed had the last word and the last laugh, since he left the planet thirty-three years ago, and with some astonishing regularity, every time his naysayers had yammered enough nonsense to gain some traction with the film nerds not so good at thinking for themselves, suddenly, something new and amazing from Orson would appear, an IT’S ALL TRUE or TOO MUCH JOHNSON, things we had all heard of but never thought we’d see, and some of the films he had managed to get out in his lifetime but so many of those film nerds managed to miss (and how hard was it really not to miss those films kids, I managed to catch CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT here in Phoenix in the early 70’s and F FOR FAKE played first-Run at a neighborhood house just down the road from where I lived then)would reappear in lovely, restored form and suddenly those naysayer arguments rang even more hollower than they had always sounded to we who really knew the score.
Now the naysayers have lost one of their last bastions, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND exists---really exists, for all to see, and it’s a damn good film after all. That’s a deep, long, loud Orsonian belly laugh I hear coming from the netherworld---he really did triumph in the end. No matter what harpies knawed at his vitals as he breathed, no matter what lengths so many went to stop him from persuing his craft while he was alive and even after-------they never stopped his talent, he was still persuing and creating it till the moment his heart gave out in his California home at 70 while he prepared to shoot something more that next day. You’ve won Orson, and you were right, they’ll love you when you’re dead, the fight was worth it.
RICHARD M ROBERTS
SOUND MOVIE MAIN is the spot to discuss non-comedy SOUND films. Go figure.
2 posts • Page 1 of 1
Waiting for this film since I was a teenager - all I can say is Bravo, Orson -- and Bravo, Richard!
"Of course he smiled -- just like you and me." -- Harold Goodwin, on Buster Keaton (1976)
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