November 1, 2018

SCREEN | Documenting 'The Other Side of the Wind' on Netflix

"Movies and friendship... those are mysteries."
John Huston Peter Bogdonavich Orson Welles | Netflix The Other Side of the Wind

Filmed perpetually throughout the 1970s and long thought to be his lost unfinished masterpiece, legendary filmmaker Orson Welles' finally released The Other Side of the Wind is truly a strange but intriguing piece of art that endlessly comments on the toxic nature of Hollywood.

Sort of a touching mess, Wind works best as a companion to Morgan Neville's illuminating documentary They'll Love Me When I'm Dead about Welles' career and the (un)making of the film's production. At the end of Neville's film, Welles and his collaborators themselves make a case for how a non-fiction documentary about the then unfinished Wind could potentially be a true version and ultimate legacy of the picture.

What really sets apart They'll Love Me from the actual film itself is simply how fun and breezy it is. Alternatively, what's most frustrating about Wind is its lack of context which feels incredibly necessary.

Essentially two separate films, one is scrapped together as a semi-autobiographical, mockumentary-style footage about the last days of a remarkable but aging filmmaker, Jake Hannaford—not unlike Welles himself and played by filmmaker John Huston—and the other is the troubled arthouse film-with-a-film that Hannaford is in the middle of making. Both meta films in one are very much a product of the classic Hollywood machine and European avant-garde fare its aiming to skewer.

Oja Kodar Orson Welles | Netflix The Other Side of the Wind

Finished by producer Frank Marshall and Welles protégé Peter Bogdonavich (who also co-stars as a fictional version of himself, Brooks Otterlake) based on his detailed notes, Wind is often jarring going from scattered talking heads to a somewhat unexplained wordless performance from co-star/writer Oja Kodar (Welles' longtime companion) in an erotic and literally naked performance.

It's quite stirring truly how sensual the film is with its copious detours into flights of sexual fantasy and full frontal nudity. The film-withan-a-film's explicitly exploitive mirrors the exploitation Welles surely felt as an outcast Hollywood director working outside the machine despite his storied connections.

The Other Side of the Wind is an utterly watchable yet frustrating piece of work clearly made by a masterful filmmaker that's almost too good at sending up the cinematic culture it's clearly a product of. However, it's best watched and enjoyed in context with supplementary material about the making of the film and how it fits into Welles' ultimately mixed legacy as one of the greatest filmmakers ever.

Both The Other Side of the Wind and They'll Love Me When I'm Dead are available for streaming on Netflix.

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