When hearing the name ‘Orson Welles’, one typically envisions a monochromatic, geographically precise movie from the 1940’s. Black and white. Square ratio. Deep-focus. A steady camera. Citizen Kane (1941) was not crowned one of the greatest (if not the greatest) film ever made for nothing. Welles carefully structured narrative and Hitchcockian control of the lens made his work instantly recognisable. So you can understand my surprise when being greeted with this handheld, psychedelic mockumentary reminiscent Dennis Hoppers Easy Riders (1969).
Edited together after his death, Welles’s famously unfinished movie has had its scraps of footage combined into a tribute to the late director. Scraps of footage seems a very accurate description here, as jumbled cutaway shots and use of photographs aids in giving The Other Side of the Wind the authenticity of a real documentary. Supposedly following the final days of aging film director Jake Hannaford, we get a sort of film-within-a-film. Made even more complex as the plot of a late Hollywood director trying to finish his final movie parallels that of Welles’s reality. The film being made within the storyline and the movie itself (both entitled The Other Side of the Wind) were made during and proceeding their directors’ deaths. You can see how this can be both very clever but somewhat confusing.
Netflix have been able to meticulously scramble through over 100 hours of footage using Welles annotated scripts and production notes as a guide to the finished product. Their dedication and artistic voice must also be taken into account when watching this film, as they evidently turned to other experimental films of the era to achieve Welles’s ode to Classical Hollywood’s end. And an end it certainly was, with this new-age Welles satire coincidentally turning into true avant-garde homage. Welles ridicules the pretentiousness of the 70’s artistic movement, whilst in some ways nodding to its unique bravery. Either way, we sure do get a blast from the past. Of the good and the bad.
Cutting between black-and-white, colour (much like Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, 1994), naked chicks and neon kaleidoscopic lights scream the 70’s. As does the slightly hard to follow storyline. Though technically fictionally, The Other Side of the Wind’s documentary tone allows for more experimentation. The boundaries between fiction and reality; on-set and off-set; the film itself and the film Hannford’s making, are completely blurred.
It’s an interesting film, to say the least. Both in itself or contextually. Whether or not you are an Orson Welles fan is irrelevant. It’s whether you enjoy the strange, erotic style of those 70’s indie flicks. Or else if you documentaries (or mockumentaries). Personally, I found the movie to be a fascinating watch- especially in the knowledge of how it came to be made. Admittedly, I did zone out on a few occasions when menial conversations tumbled on through want of a genuine documentary atmosphere. But mostly I enjoyed it’s unpredictable nature, featuring bizarre imagery and psychedelic rock tunes. The time and effort that went into 40 years of completion is evident, yet the film never takes itself too seriously. And to top it all off, there many a fan theory to scroll through regarding the films conclusion.