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New Release Review (VOD) - THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND review
A birthday party is thrown for a once great director currently struggling to complete his latest film.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Orson Welles

Starring: John Huston, Robert Random, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Oja Kodar, Joseph McBride, Lilli Palmer, Edmond O'Brien, Mercedes McCambridge, Cameron Mitchell

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND poster


The great film composer Bernard Herrmann notoriously burned a lot of bridges in his life, even falling out with his greatest collaborator, Alfred Hitchcock. When he passed away in 1975, he didn't receive a Hollywood funeral attended by stars of the past; rather it was then young filmmakers Larry Cohen and Martin Scorsese, with whom he had recently worked on It's Alive and Taxi Driver, who saw that Herrmann received a dignified sendoff.

Like Herrmann, who scored his debut, Citizen Kane (not a bad little picture), Orson Welles was similarly discarded by Hollywood but embraced by a new generation of filmmakers. Rising auteurs like Peter Bogdanovich, Joseph McBride and Paul Mazursky formed friendships with Welles and went out of their way to ensure he could continue working in the '70s. Much of their efforts went into the production of a film called The Other Side of the Wind, which until now was considered one of the great lost films. Netflix have funded a full assembly of the film, overseen by Frank Marshall and editor Bob Murawski, but it's a shame they haven't deemed it worthy of a cinema release beyond a handful of theatres in New York, London and Los Angeles.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND review

Shot intermittently between 1970 and '76, The Other Side of the Wind plays out during a 70th birthday party thrown for Jake Hannaford (John Huston), a once great Hollywood director struggling to complete his latest movie. The assembled guests at Hannaford's shindig include admiring young filmmakers, not so admiring critics, ex-lovers and various hangers on.

Much of the drama concerns the deteriorating relationship between Hannaford and his young protégé Brooks Otterlake (Bogdanovich), a filmmaker whose star has overtaken that of his aging mentor. Rumours circulate that Hannaford and Otterlake's relationship may not be strictly platonic, and the older filmmaker snatches a naive young girl from the grasp of Otterlake as if to cruelly inspire jealousy.

I've seen Hannaford described as a loose version of Welles himself, but as a cantankerous Irish-American who happens to be the son of a famous actor, there's an awful lot of Huston in the character. Hannaford's behaviour toward the feminine male lead of his film (Bob Random) seems to echo the abrasive relationship between Huston and Montgomery Clift on the set of 1961's Freud.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND review

Bogdanovich is essentially playing himself, and he does so very well, while Susan Strasberg is vibrant as a thinly veiled version of critic Pauline Kael who spends much of her time riling up Hannaford and Otterlake. In a moment that reminded me of the scene in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People where Steve Coogan points out how the DJ has overtaken the musician, Strasberg goes off on a rant about the two men's irrelevance and the assembled cameramen turn their lights away from the filmmakers and onto the critic.

By presenting the party as seen through the lens of various cameraman, Welles seems to have accidentally invented the found footage genre a full decade before Cannibal Holocaust. Of course, as this is Orson Welles, the footage rarely looks accidental, and even when cameras are shaking and out of focus, there's hardly a shot that isn't visually dynamic. Take away the rapid editing and you might think you're watching one of Robert Altman's ensemble dramas - Welles' film has much of the scathing, surreal humour of A Wedding and HEALTH.

The unnamed film within a film is a pastiche of the sort of movies European filmmakers had been making in the US in the era, and it heavily draws on Jacques Demy's Model Shop and Michaelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. Welles was famously disparaging of Antonioni's languid style (hey, even Orson Welles can be wrong!), so it's interesting that he chose the site of Zabriskie Point's explosive climax for Hannaford's desert villa. There's much of Welles' Chimes at Midnight and Don Quixote collaborator Jess Franco in this film within a film too, with Welles' then romantic partner Oja Kodar parading around naked to a jazz fusion soundtrack, her long dark hair and tanned skin recalling Franco's frequent star Soledad Miranda. At one point an audience member suggests that the projectionist is playing the reels out of order. His reply - "Does it matter?" - tells you all you need to know about Welles' opinion of European art cinema.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND review

If the film within a film is intended as a parody, it's ironic that it gifts The Other Side of the Wind with its two greatest sequences. One sees Kodar walk through a nightclub and into a changing room, entrancing everyone, both male and female in her path. It's reminiscent of something you might find in the more erotic recesses of the Giallo genre, or a '90s Levi's commercial directed by Cattet and Forzani. No five minute piece of film in 2018 is so beguiling. The other standout is a sex scene that, somewhat ahead of its time, sees Kodar take the reins in seducing Random's doe-eyed pretty boy in the back of a car that happens to be driven by her cuckolded boyfriend. It's a reminder that sex can be cinematic, a fresh jolt from the past to these prudish times.

In the final act, Hannaford's guests relocate to a nearby drive-in cinema to continue viewing the footage of his film the way it's meant to be seen, on the big screen, with an audience. Kudos to Netflix for putting up the cash to complete Welles' film, but shame on them for denying it the theatrical release it demands.

The Other Side of the Wind is on Netflix now.


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