One of the most fascinating new movies from 2018 – and if you want to argue that it's one of the best, I'm all ears – is actually over four decades old. The director who plagued it for existence died for 33 years since 1985. It's called "The other side of the wind", it's Orson Welles longest latest movie, and you can watch it on Netflix right now.
And would you ever.
That we can finally see an unseen work by Welles, one of the great talent in film history, as well as one of his biggest and most self-destructive ego, is an unexpected left-wing delight. In the early 1970s, the director came for two decades of exile in Europe, where he had been driven by years of Hollywood distrust and abuse.
To the heads of classical years he was a pariah: the 25-year-old smartassist who made "Citizen Kane" and thought he was better than the rest of the city. But to the new Hollywood filmmakers from the 1960s – the proud young producers and stars whose European influenza films spoke against the counter-culture – Welles was a rebel patriarch. To his chagrin, it was not converted into money to make new movies.
The aging autograph pressed on whatever. In the first half of the 1970s, Welles worked with a nuclear crew and a rolling banquet of actors on "The Other Side of the Wind", a film that meant that both parody New Hollywood exceeded and beat the children in their own game. But the financing ran low and then, and when the Iranian Revolution interrupted the funding of a main investor (which is related to the Shah), the film was taken by producers and locked in a vault in Paris for decades.
Many have worked over the years to get Welles swan singing out of prison sentences and completed according to late master's notes and wishes. Director Peter Bogdanovich, a Welles acolyte that strengthens in "The Other Side of the Wind" and producer Frank Marshall, a major Hollywood power player who worked as a crew member on the film, spun the efforts and Netflix finally kicked the funds needed to get the project to the final stage of completion.
Beginning in 1971, "The Other Side of the Wind" debuted at the Venice Film Festival in August and premiere last week at Netflix. (It shows theatrical in New York and Los Angeles and can still come to Boston screens.)
The film is a mess – intentionally and otherwise – but it's also a gas. "The other side of the wind" is actually two movies in one. The first is a chilling, chaotic mockumentary about a storied Hollywood director, Jake Hannaford (played by storied Hollywood director John Huston, who clearly faces Welles himself), struggling to make his final film made.
This movie is also called "The other side of the wind" and in the long stretches we see, in the studio screens and at an infinite party, Hannaford throws himself, it is a parody of what is the most significant arthouse film by Antonioni, Bergman and Hollywood directors who emulated them.
Since Welles obviously could not make a bad movie with purpose, these movie-in-a-movie sequences are also fascinating, shot and edited with immense film-making skills and with the striking (and mostly cut-out) form of Oja Kodar, a Static Croatian actor and author who was Welles company at that time.
If Hannaford's "The Other Side of the Wind" is part of pretentious twaddle, which is also quite amazing (or vice versa), Welles "The Other Side of the Wind" – meaning the desperate scrum of backbiting and flattering that surrounds Jake – is rich, Rabelaisian, and full of sharp Hollywood observations. Since Welles shot for several years and invited everyone he knew about the party, the movie is practically a face book of the early 70's actor.
Bogdanovich plays a young director whose career has commercially outshined his mentor (as it did in real life); He replaced comedian Rich Little in the role, but Little still appears in the faux-doc's corner. Dennis Hopper offers rocked musings, Susan Strasberg floats through as a movie critic suspicious as Welles bête noire Pauline Kael. Old Hollywood faces like Cameron Mitchell, Mercedes McCambridge and Edmond Brien play Hannaford cronies, Lilli Palmer shows what has to be considered Marlene Dietrich, and studio director Norman Foster has the most touching role of Billy Boyle, a aging hangers on.
So was Orson Welles the man who invented the mockumentary? Yes, yes – back in 1941 with the fake news audit that opens "Citizen Kane." The multi-lens chaos "The other side of the wind" has more of an Altman-esque circus vibe, but the bit of dialogue – the Murderant, exhausted aside from celebrity, media, filmmaking, Hollywood power games – are all Welles.
To add meta-movie hijinks, a 98-minute documentary accompanies the very nice creation of "The Other Side of the Wind" on Netflix. Directed by Morgan Neville ("20 Feet From Stardom", "Will You Be My Neighbor"), "They'll Love Me When I'm Dead" is as fascinating as the Welles movie and in some ways more outrageous as it describes it behind The scenes are the creative tragedy of an infinite proliferation.
(For Supplementary, there is also an excellent 40-minute mini-doc about the effort to save and edit Welles movie, called "A Final Cut for Orson: 40 Years in Manufacturing", cast in Netflix "Trailers and More" section of "The Second side of the wind. ")
Should you watch the film before the documentary or documentary before the movie? It depends on. If you come to Welles with nothing but a college survey of Citizen Kane under your belt, Nevilles doctor should take you to speed as you prepare for the Shaggy-throwback 70's of "Wind." If you "become an old filmmaker and / or a long-lasting friend of Orson, dive in and let" they'll love me when I'm dead "give a beautiful background.
Fancy or not, it's up to you to decide if this is "The other side of the wind" Orson wanted, ruled by him from the other side of the grave. Of course, the film was never finished: Despite Welles claims the contrary in the Neville documentary – and as Philip Seymour Hoffman's unfortunate dramatist in Charlie Kaufman's 2008 meta movie "Synecdoche, New York", the legendary outcaster seems to have played a version of his life like something put together with the real one.
You can argue that all Orson Welles films were about Orson Welles at the end. More than anyone else, "Wind" may have been the big white whale that he simultaneously chased and where.