Photos | Netflix / Paramount Pictures
From left: In Orson Welles’ unfinished final film, “The Other SIde of the Wind,” a Hollywood director emerges from semi-exile with plans to complete work on an innovative motion picture. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne adopt three siblings in “Instant Family.”
Orson Welles’ unfinished final film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” obsessively edited together by Bob Murawski and released on Netflix, is many things: It is a meta-film, a fake documentary about a legendary film director’s unfinished final film. It is a vivid slice of Hollywood and America in the 1970s that also resonates today. It is full of visionary cinematography and nudity and acidic verbal quips. What it is not, however, is highly watchable.
The handheld, hallucinogenic camera style is at times amazing, but a little goes a long way. It is hard to believe that the Orson Welles who innovated camera angles and focus in “Citizen Kane” produced this haphazard look, but it also fits in perfectly with the style of the time it was made. The loose, rambling plot is also very much a product of the times, and is strongly reminiscent of “Easy Rider,” a historically important, seminal film that I don’t particularly enjoy watching.
The film within a film is also a product of the times but a parody, with its over-the-top sexuality and quintessential hippie hero. Both the film and the film they’re trying to make come out looking pretty dated, and there is much to digest, but ultimately “The Other Side of the Wind” is more of an artifact to consider than a movie.
Among the many facets to ponder: John Huston as the Welles surrogate, director “Jake Hannaford,” is towering and magnetic, and Peter Bogdanovich is a multifaceted pleasure to watch as Hannaford’s closest friend and collaborator. Of course, that also describes the real Bogdanovich and the real Welles. But even with all these fun and fascinating parts to tease out and consider, we still have to sit through the fake movie “The Other Side of the Wind,” which is an entirely too successfully ridiculous, unwatchable film consisting of Welles’ real-life partner, Oja Kodar, buck naked in many extended and truly graphic sex scenes.
Bob Murawski edited over 100 hours of Welles’ footage into what at times feels like about 99 hours of footage, and it’s alternately trippy, shocking, hilarious, wise, well-written, nonsensical and boring. The layers of meaning and real-life irony have only deeply increased with its extended hibernation, and it sounds totally fascinating on paper. What is really mind-boggling is to conceive of what has been edited out to result in “The Other Side of the Wind.” If there is an extended director’s cut, please don’t make me watch it. (Actually, Netflix just released a companion documentary about the making of it, called “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” which you could watch back-to-back for a really intense date night.)
The insider view of Hollywood is fascinating. A very lengthy party scene, with its cast of would-bes, has-beens, hangers-on and other hyphenated Hollywood creatures, all being captured on camera by journalists who are constantly angling for interviews, is a great centerpiece to feast upon, but the slightest narrative momentum would have been greatly appreciated. As biting and effective as the commentary on fame and the media and Hollywood is, it’s awash in much unintelligible babble, extreme close-ups, mood lighting and nipples.
Having said all that, anyone with an interest in Orson Welles must watch it. It’s a historical oddity and a legend that has been preserved so that people can finally see it. I do not recommend it as an entry into the famous director’s work by any means, but for completists, it’s required watching. And if that makes it sound like homework, well, it kind of feels that way, too.
“The Other Side of the Wind” is currently streaming on Netflix.