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War of the Welles: The Torturous Journey of The Other Side of the Wind to the Big Screen
April 15, 2007 9:57 AM   Subscribe

The Other Side of the Wind is the lost last film of Orson Welles, a reputed unseen masterpiece, that may finally see the light of day in late 2008. The film tells the story of Jake Hannaford (played by John Huston), an aging movie director who has to film a low budget sex-and-symbolism flick to avoid getting overtaken by the Movie Brats of the Spielberg/Coppola generation. After providing voiceovers to two documentaries on the Persepolis ceremonies of 1971 and an intimate portrait of the Shah of Iran, Welles obtained Iranian financing to finish The Other Side of the Wind. Unfortunately, after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the bank accounts of his Iranian financier were seized, which led to the negatives for the film getting locked in a French vault. After Orson Welles died in 1985, his lover/collaborator Oja Kodar had to settle his estate with Orson's estranged (but never divorced) wife Paola Mori. There the matter might have rested, if not for an unfortunate coincidence. (More inside.)
posted by jonp72 (50 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Before Paola Mori could sign the papers to settle the estate, she died in an automobile accident on the way to meeting Oja Kodar. The problem with Iranian financing disappeared, after Orson's main financial backer, Medhi Boushehri, died. But then, Paola and Orson's daughter, Beatrice Welles, decided to hold the Other Side of the Wind hostage through litigation, similar to how she tried to suppress Citizen Kane and the 1998 re-release of Touch of Evil. Fortunately, with backing from Showtime and Peter Bogdanovich, the legal hurdles to screening The Other Side of the Wind may finally be cleared.

For more info on the Other Side of the Wind, see interviews with Oja Kodar, cameraman Gary Graver, and Peter Bogdanovich and Joseph McBride , as well as script excerpts and two clips of the unreleased film on YouTube.
posted by jonp72 at 9:58 AM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


whoah
posted by nathancaswell at 10:00 AM on April 15, 2007


Being famous and talented seems like way too much effort.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:03 AM on April 15, 2007


what does a "sex-and-symbolism flick" entail?
posted by es_de_bah at 10:29 AM on April 15, 2007


Cool post. Interesting that the movie has three major directors as actors in it: Bogdanovich, Huston and Mazursky. Hard to imagine all those egos getting along. Hopefully, Bogdanovich and push this deal through with Showtime and we'll get to see it. That last clip has some really wild editing, sort of the style that the first seasons of Homicide had.
posted by octothorpe at 10:35 AM on April 15, 2007


the movie has three major directors as actors in it

Four, if you count Cameron Crowe. Four and a half if you count Dennis Hopper.
posted by hal9k at 10:40 AM on April 15, 2007


Orson Welles was so bleeping cool. Many people went gaga over Marlon Brando and the older and crazier he got, the more gaga they went over him. Marlon Brando always creeped me out. However, the older and fatter and creepier Welles got; Welles was so bleeping cool.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:41 AM on April 15, 2007


very interesting
posted by caddis at 10:47 AM on April 15, 2007


Here's another list of some of his other stuff we may or may not ever see.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:57 AM on April 15, 2007


Orson Welles was born too late (1915). Hitchcock was born 1899 and was the real deal, along with William Randolf Hurst and H.G. Welles. Orson was the 19th century gentleman but it was too late, he never was able to re-make himself. This film looks like another painful chapter of that story.
posted by stbalbach at 11:12 AM on April 15, 2007


Beatrice Welles also tried to sell her daddy's Oscar. This might lend some credence to the theory that The Academy does not always honor people outside their membership, unless they think it'd be legally safe for them to do so. I mean of course they do sometimes, but after 1985 I certainly wouldn't be surprised if sometimes they choose to honor one person over another for reasons that have nothing to do with the voting, and more to do with common sense or CYA considerations. After dealing with people like Beatrice Welles, it'd be unwise for them to do otherwise.

Welles was never a member of The Academy. Nor do I think he put much stock into it.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:20 AM on April 15, 2007


There's footage of The Other Side of the Wind, along with other unfinished Welles projects, in the documentary "Orson Welles: One-Man Band" included with the Criterion edition of F for Fake. I was under the impression Welles never got a chance to edit it. Editing seemed to be the most important part of Welles' creative process in his later work.
posted by hyperizer at 11:21 AM on April 15, 2007


Plus he appreciated the excellence of French champagne!

Great post, btw. ;)
posted by miss lynnster at 11:24 AM on April 15, 2007


Amazing post. Thank you.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:29 AM on April 15, 2007


Oh yeah. Def! Great post jonp72! =)
posted by ZachsMind at 11:32 AM on April 15, 2007


I'd love to see the film, but like stbalbach, it makes me a bit nervous. I like to remember Welles as Harry Lime and Charles Foster Kane. I'm worried that The Other Side of the Wind won't live up - that it will smack not of genius, but of Paul Masson wines.
posted by aladfar at 11:40 AM on April 15, 2007


Orson Welles was born too late (1915). Hitchcock was born 1899 and was the real deal, along with William Randolf Hurst and H.G. Welles. Orson was the 19th century gentleman but it was too late, he never was able to re-make himself. This film looks like another painful chapter of that story.

That's nice. You're wrong.
posted by Alex404 at 11:51 AM on April 15, 2007 [4 favorites]


I was under the impression Welles never got a chance to edit it.

The gist from the articles I've read is that Welles edited 40 to 50 minutes of the film himself, selected final takes for the rest of the film, and left behind detailed instructions and notes for how he wanted the rest of the film edited. The authorial intent of Orson Welles will be truly unknowable, but the film can be pieced together in the manner of the 1998 restoration of Touch of Evil.
posted by jonp72 at 11:59 AM on April 15, 2007


Wow, thanks for letting me know about this. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:13 PM on April 15, 2007


He was 26 when he did Citizen Kane. Let that sink in for a moment. 26 years old.


Great post.
posted by tkchrist at 12:15 PM on April 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


"...makes me a bit nervous. I like to remember Welles as Harry Lime and Charles Foster Kane..."

I like to remember Welles as Kane near the end of the film in that shot where he starts off by the fireplace in Xanadu and the camera slowly pans away from him so that this once great and brilliant man looks small and alone surrounded by the shadow of his former majesty. Weighed down and imprisoned by his own former glory, and the consequences of his actions.

He couldn't have known that when he was telling his version of Hearst's story, he was also showing a metaphorical glimpse of his own future. Welles was so bleeping cool; a near-Shakespearean tragic hero of modern times. Beatrice is like Goneril & Regan rolled up together
posted by ZachsMind at 12:19 PM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Recently came across Welles' famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast that flipped out the US in 1938.

http://www.oculture.com/weblog/2007/02/the_major_works.html
posted by Hankenstein at 12:22 PM on April 15, 2007


Being famous and talented seems like way too much effort.

That's why I've always avoided it. Also, try not to have annoying children.

It's a fascinating story, and very nicely assembled into this post, jonp72. Thanks. Interesting cast, too; was John Huston consistently the best actor among top directors? He certainly was expert in Chinatown. Woody Allen? Spike Lee? (Also good, Sydney Pollack in his own film, Tootsie.)

Probably the answer is Mr. Welles himself.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:32 PM on April 15, 2007


He was 26 when he did Citizen Kane. Let that sink in for a moment. 26 years old.

Well, this issue wasn't that he wasn't young and brilliant - it's what became of him afterwards, and why he never fulfilled that promise. Some like to repeat the old saw of how the studio system did him in, but in fact, I'd say he did himself in. After Citizen Kane he had everything at his disposal. But he dropped the Magnificent Ambersons before editiing to to disappear to South America. Have you seen the footage from there? It's dull stuff, absolutely hopeless.

He flitted from project to project, finishing very little. There are certainly bright spots, but there are also dreadful hammy performances (just about all of them, after Kane) and failures everywhere. At some point, you have to suspect that the sabotage is coming from within. He had a phobia about completion.

We all love his director's touches - the mirrors in Lady from Shanghai (which is otherwise dreadful), the little bits here and there that make us perk up. Someone (Sarris?) said Welles might have been the greatest assistant director in history. But it takes more than neat little touches to make a director - you've got to carry a project through, fight people, stand your ground at times. Welles was too scattered for that, alas.
posted by QuietDesperation at 12:32 PM on April 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


Does "someone" even know what an assistant director actually does? (My guess: no)
posted by skammer at 1:03 PM on April 15, 2007


ah, Welles.

we're all here -- well, most of us, at least -- treating all those films, all those projects, as unfinished, as finishing them in the first place was the point. when, really, after Ambersons -- and possibily even earlier, after Kane -- finishing the movie was in a very real way irrelevant -- there was always another project, another rich man to con into financing his latest adventure, another idea to chase (this is the man who, in the 1940s, wanted to make a Jesus film using Western movie locations, and wanted to make a serial killer movie casting Chaplin as the murderer -- Chaplin refused but, as we all know, bought the idea and made the movie himself: Monsieur Verdoux).

and there's the irony of America's greatest man of the theatre (just read about his Shakespeare works, they're off the charts brilliant) ending up as America's most famous film director (famous for what certainly is not his best film -- not even his second best, so far behind Touch of Evil and Mr. Arkadin (whatever version), Chimes At Midnight...).

and again: he made the best, deepest, saddest, most merciless Henry James movie adaptation ever, only it's not a James, it's simply a Tarkington (another awesome Welles sleight of hand) -- not that it matters when you have Welles's genius.

and yes, his daughter pops up every once in a while in the news, either fucking Othello's shit up (mostly in a bad way) or simply trying to milk money from somebody, somehow -- lawsuits, negotiations, whatever, it's all good -- plagued by the same chronic need of money her father always had, but having none of his talent -- not even his talent for self-destruction.

Bogdanovich, bless his dead-blonde-loving heart, understands Welles so deeply -- he always tells that great story, he and Welles discussing Garbo, and Bogdanovich pointing out how, after all, she became a legend having made only two really great films in her entire career.

Welles's answer, of course, was that "you only need one".
posted by matteo at 1:06 PM on April 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


Bogdanovich, bless his dead-blonde-loving heart, understands Welles so deeply

I dunno, matteo. Bogdonavich seems like such a fraud to me when it comes to Welles and it casts a weird shadow over his relationships with other directors and actors. His own books generally paint him as knowledgable about, well, everyone, but when you listen to him actually talking with Welles he sounds unbelievably ignorant. It seems that every 30 seconds or so he's saying "Oh! I see, you mean...--" and then Welles' say, "No! I mean this..." and PB says "Oh, right" or "Of course!" or whatever. He nevers seems to comprehend the conversations he has with Welles while he's having them.

I've never made it thru all of the tapes of OW and PB talking because I often feel dirty or embarassed for PB's bumbling nonsense. Sure, Welles was larger than life and I'd bet that the vast majority of people who spoke with him were equally dwarfed, but none of those others really made a career out of their friendships. (Well, okay, maybe Jaglom, but....)
posted by dobbs at 1:36 PM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Have you seen the footage from there? It's dull stuff, absolutely hopeless.

I have. It's incredible, wonderful stuff.
posted by juiceCake at 1:41 PM on April 15, 2007


Quiet Desperation: "Some like to repeat the old saw of how the studio system did him in, but in fact, I'd say he did himself in. After Citizen Kane he had everything at his disposal.."

Not quite. Although impossible of course to prove, and inevitable opponents on this debate would easily dismiss this as conspiratorial paranoia, Hearst was VERY displeased with Citizen Kane, and while he couldn't completely shut down Welles, he pulled his strings and made it difficult for Welles to do what he wanted to do here in the States. While perhaps not 'blackballed' Welles was certainly no longer welcome at the proverbial Country Club.

Add to this the fact that the American audience of the time was a tad too conservative for Welles' blatantly pretentious and mischievious flair. He was offering his audiences gourmet, when all they really wanted was nachos and beandip. Someone earlier in the thread said perhaps Welles was born in the wrong time. Maybe he would have been more accepted a decade or so before. Maybe he'd be more accepted now.

I would argue that he spent much of his time after Kane abroad, because America was too uptight for him. Perhaps we still are.

I wonder if Welles and Kaufman would have gotten along. I like to think they would have hated one another, and that I'd find most deliciously ironic.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:57 PM on April 15, 2007


Hmm. A matter of taste, I suppose. But if it were so incredible and wonderful, why did no one at the time think that any movie could possibly come out of it?
posted by QuietDesperation at 1:59 PM on April 15, 2007


This guy had to struggle a lot for his films, damn!
posted by autodidact at 2:43 PM on April 15, 2007


I have a feeling that Welles would have pushed the limits of the patience and support of his backers until it snapped - no matter what that limit was. He had to be an enfante terrible and a martyr. The difference with Kane was that his carte blanche was huge - the limit he was testing was the power structure of the United States (Hearst).

I have a bit of that in me (not his level of genius, but his impudence). When a teacher raved about an essay I wrote as an undergraduate the next essay I wrote began with "DH Lawrence sucks." When the teacher raved about that essay, my next essay attacked the teacher.

Welles had to break the best - the most beautiful, Rita Hayworth, the classics, Don Quixote. . . or break himself trying.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:03 PM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is great news. Now the Criterion Collection needs to do a release of Chimes At Midnight and we'll be all set.
(Meantime, has any one seen this DVD release of Chimes? Worth it if you've already got a VHS recording? I'm guessing no, since I haven't heard about a restoration project.)
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:10 PM on April 15, 2007


Being famous and talented seems like way too much effort.

It is, kickstart, it is. It's a real bitch.

Course, I wouldn't really know about the famous part, but my mom did tell me once that I was talented.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:52 PM on April 15, 2007


"and when I tell you that my partner in that project is the brother-in-law of the late Shaw of Iran, you will understand why we are having a little legal difficulty."

But you see, this whole financing problem was based on a simple case of mistaken identity. Welle's backer was the Shaw of Iran! Leonard Shaw. Of Iran. Poor Leonard. He really got the shaft.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:56 PM on April 15, 2007


He nevers seems to comprehend the conversations he has with Welles while he's having them.

I'm sure that dating Dorothy Stratten -- her creepy boyfriend notwithstanding -- seemed to be a good idea, too, at the time. I like Bogdanovich because he's all about hindsight. and he writes wise words about his old buddy Jerry Lewis, that forgotten giant.

Bogdanovich knows very well the "you only need one" line. as bad as his career has turned out to be, and his life too, Bogdanovich has his timeless masterpiece, anyway. that's more than most working American directors -- except Scorsese and a few others -- can say.
posted by matteo at 5:45 PM on April 15, 2007


and yes, his daughter pops up every once in a while in the news, either fucking Othello's shit up (mostly in a bad way) or simply trying to milk money from somebody, somehow -- lawsuits, negotiations, whatever

Beatrice Welles is Exhibit A in demonstrating how our nation's copyright laws promote the Paris Hilton-ization of our cultural heritage by allowing no-talent offspring to suck the marrow out of the output of great artists and performers.
posted by jonp72 at 6:05 PM on April 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


Bogdanovich has his timeless masterpiece

Some love for Targets at last!
posted by Wolof at 8:20 PM on April 15, 2007


Superb post, interesting story!
posted by nickyskye at 9:49 PM on April 15, 2007


Thanks for the fascinating post!
posted by rfbjames at 11:41 PM on April 15, 2007


tkchrist: He was 26 when he did Citizen Kane. Let that sink in for a moment. 26 years old.

And that was after he established himself as the highwater mark on radio with a string of dazzling performances that propelled him to Hollywood in the first place.

Let THAT sink in.
posted by RavinDave at 5:16 AM on April 16, 2007


And after all that's good and sunk in, take a listen to ol' Orson try to get through a voiceover gig for a frozen peas commercial. The artiste in him just can't help but critique (and critique and critique) the ad copy he's been hired to read. Alas, his better days were behind him...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:29 AM on April 16, 2007


Simon Callow (whom Americans would probably recognize best as the character in Four Weddings and a Funeral who gets the funeral) has written an incredible biography on the life of Welles. The first volume, The Road to Xanadu, covers Welles' life all the way up to the fallout from Citizen Kane. The second volume, Hello Americans, was just published last year and follows up with Welles' work on The Magnificent Ambersons, his film adaptation of Macbeth, and the insane amount of side projects he tirelessly threw himself into. Both are amazingly thorough and excellent reads for anybody fascinated with how this Boy Genius used the New York stage, then radio, and then Hollywood to satisfy his creative fires.
posted by Spatch at 5:30 AM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Review of Callow's new book in NY Review of Books.

Review by Jonathan Rosenbaum in Cineaste.
posted by kensanway at 6:09 AM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Excellent post, thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 6:32 AM on April 16, 2007


This post rocks harder than the New York Dolls injected with experimental amphetamines, shoved in a metal bin and rolled repeatedly down a very stony hill. Thanks, jonp72!
posted by The Salaryman at 9:45 AM on April 16, 2007


If you haven't seen it, here's the Simpson's take on War of the Worlds. With a not so subtle political statement at the end.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:53 AM on April 16, 2007


Five if you count Jaglom.
posted by stevil at 12:44 PM on April 16, 2007


Welles had such great diction and vocal presence. Anyone else remember his reciting of "Dream Within a Dream" the Poe-inspired "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" by the Alan Parsons Project? Sets the tone for the entire album.
posted by schleppo at 12:56 PM on April 16, 2007


I'd say he did himself in

It doesn't matter if the only other film Welles did was Deuce Bigalow 4 he did Citizen Kane! I know I know it's hip to NOT like Kane. Fuck that. One may argue the brilliance of the film itself. BUT put it in context of the time 1941 it was an amazing... daring... achievement and bold statement for such a young man. He doesn't need any more legacy than that.

And that was after he established himself as the highwater mark on radio with a string of dazzling performances that propelled him to Hollywood in the first place.


I completely agree.

Think about the fact that Radio was a new medium.

Welles was a god among men.
posted by tkchrist at 1:46 PM on April 16, 2007


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