I was unaware of The Other Side of the Wind before its recent Netflix release: Orson Welles’ final film and what he considered his masterpiece. Unfortunately, it was never completed due to complications in post-production which prolonged the making of the movie until Welles died in 1985.
The Other Side of the Wind is a meditative journey into the magic of filmmaking, the longing for the past and what could have been, an introspective piece on getting older, a film within a film. It is simultaneously autobiography and fiction, real and surreal.
The movie follows Jake Hannaford, an aging director (John Huston) during his birthday and what is eluded to be the final day of his life. The cut-up realist style, in the beginning, brings to mind French New Wave. The editing can be jarring at times, frequently switching from black and white to color. This was most likely done because of the film’s lack of budget; scenes were therefore resurrected and edited posthumously.
At the party, arguments break out on the nature of the film and the meaning of art among fellow well-established members of the film industry. These conversations are amusing and satirical, seeming to poke at the frail egos that are the foundation of Hollywood stardom. Welles used fairly well-known directors, writers, actors, and editors for these scenes and it is clear to see why: doing so makes the experience all that more significant, highlighting the irony of the The Other Side of the Wind being made itself.
The title of Orson’s movie is also the name of the film that Hannaford premieres for his guests. It depicts an erotic and symbolic art film with a simple plot: a boy (Bob Random) chasing after a girl (Oja Kodar); showcasing the most beautiful cinematography in the movie. Vivid colors dominate, reflections bouncing off of glass and metal buildings. The film features a very sensual scene in a car. The sound of windshield wipers; the rain and changing traffic lights melting together, creating kaleidoscopic hues on the windows.
He continues to follow the girl, to a club, the golden countryside, to an abandoned town, but she always remains ahead, out of his reach. This seems like a metaphor for Orson finishing his own film, though he was not aware of it at the time. His vision was there. The end was in sight but it was unattainable, impossible. Time knows all.
It would have been interesting to see what one of the greatest American auteurs of the 20th century would have done with what he considered his magnum opus. Yet, even in its unfinished form, it is artful, insightful and more than a semblance of what could have been. Orson gave us an astonishing substantial work, one that can still be appreciated by audiences today. Isn’t that a considerable accomplishment in itself?