Old School

Sex, sarcasm and terminal moviemaking

Orson Welles’ Other Side of the Wind is likely the most famous unfinished film ever, blighted with feuding producers and heirs, and shoots that continued over the course of some seven years.

After paying off the participants (including the Shah of Iran’s brother) and satisfying all the parties who had a piece of it, and with money raised from everyone from producer Frank Marshall to a $1 million crowdfunding campaign, The Other Side of the Wind is now available from Netflix, in what the streaming service deems “an attempt to honor and complete [Welles’] vision.”

Like Welles’ Mr. Arkadin (1962), The Other Side of the Wind begins with the question of whether a death might or might not be a suicide. The director Jake Hannaford (John Huston as Welles’ alter ego) is found dead in a car crash the night after his wild birthday party in a desert mansion. In mockumentary style, we see the party, crowded with old-time filmmakers, film-school poindexters and young flat-voiced groupies.

Hannaford was making a film within a film, which the studio was ready to pull the plug on. When we visit the set, it is crassness incarnate, with a bevy of topless hippie chicks. But in the screenings, velvety images form, suffused with L.A. beachfront smog. Welles’ mistress (and co-writer), the dark, impassive Oja Kodar, reflects zero emotion as she strides around nude in this blue gloaming.

Welles being Welles, he gets into the spirit of the then-modish stuff he was satirizing in a bravura psychedelic orgy scene, all wet silk and ice cubes and violent carnival lights. Here’s what an Orson Welles soft-core porn film would have looked like—better than Radley Metzger and Russ Meyer.

Welles’ terminal vision of the studio era was contemporary with titles like The Last Picture Show and The Last Movie, whose directors, Peter Bogdanovich and Dennis Hopper, show up here for Hannaford’s last party.

The twilight of the Hollywood gods is embodied by Kodar, solitary, striped with shadows from the laths of ruined, wobbling backlot movie sets. In this evocative satirical drama, Welles demonstrates a last magic act. He was still ahead of his time even at the end of his career.

‘The Other Side of the Wind’ is now streaming on Netflix.

Sonoma County Library