Surely the facts are DE-LOVELY!
PARIS — For more than four decades, Hollywood insiders, financiers and dreamers have been obsessed by the quest to recover “The Other Side of the Wind,” the unfinished last film of Orson Welles. Cinema buffs consider it the most famous movie never released, an epic work by one of the great filmmakers.
Endless legal battles among the rights holders, including Welles’s daughter, kept the 1,083 reels of negatives inside a warehouse in a gritty suburb of Paris despite numerous efforts to complete the film — a movie within a movie about the comeback attempt of an aging, maverick director played by John Huston.
The quest may be over. A Los Angeles production company, Royal Road Entertainment, said on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with the sometimes-warring parties to buy the rights. The producers say they aim to have it ready for a screening in time for May 6, the 100th anniversary of Welles’s birth, and to promote its distribution at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, Calif., next month.
GLORY GLORY HALLELUJAH ! (one says with crossed fingers and baited breath)
It is the latest event in a saga marked by legal squabbles, clashing egos, the spiriting away of a working print and, briefly, the disappearance and recovery of the reels last summer after a storage company went bankrupt.
“This is like finding the Land of Oz or some lost tomb,” said Josh Karp, the author of a book about the movie to be published next year by St. Martin’s Press. “This film is art imitating life and life imitating art. It’s become so mythical because of what happened with all the failures to finish it and the players involved.”
Royal Road, which has produced several foreign independent movies, spent five years chasing after the rights. It had to negotiate a détente among the rights holders: Welles’s longtime companion and collaborator, Oja Kodar; his daughter and sole heir, Beatrice Welles; and an Iranian-French production company, L’Astrophore.
Which was also responsible for THIS late-period Welles masterpiece:
During the last 15 years of his life, Welles, who died in 1985, worked obsessively on the film, which chronicles a temperamental film director — much like him — who is battling with the Hollywood establishment to finish an iconoclastic work. The supporting cast included Susan Strasberg, Lilli Palmer, Dennis Hopper and Peter Bogdanovich, who basically played himself, a young up-and-coming director.
Here’s a excerpt from The Lost Films of Orson Welles in which Bogdanovich discusses the film. A clip from the AFI tribute, with a clip form TOSOTW that he screened there is also featured.
The film features John Huston as Jake Hannaford, an aging Hollywood director modeled on Ernest Hemingway. The film opens with narration over the wreckage of Hannaford’s crashed car, casting doubt as to whether the crash which killed him on his 70th birthday was really an accident. The narrator sets the tone for the film by telling us “This [film] was put together from many sources — from all that footage shot by the TV and documentary film-makers — and also the students, critics and young directors who happened to bring sixteen and eight millimeter cameras to his birthday party…” Just before his death, Hannaford was trying to revive his flagging career by making a “hip, with-it” film in the style of Antonioni, laden with gratuitous sex scenes and violence, with mixed results. At the time of Hannaford’s party, this film (‘The Other Side of the Wind’) has been left unfinished after its star stormed off the set, for reasons not immediately apparent to the audience. The film includes extensive excerpts of this film-within-a-film, as well as excerpts of a documentary on Hannaford’s life.
After the titles, we see a screening of some incomprehensible parts of Hannaford’s unfinished experimental film. The screening is being held to attract “end money” from clearly unimpressed studio boss Max David (Geoffrey Land). Hannaford himself is absent, and a loyal member of his entourage, the aging former child star Billy Boyle (Norman Foster) makes an inept attempt to describe what the film is about. David asks, “Jake is just making this up as he goes along, isn’t he?” After an awkward pause, Boyle can only reply, “He’s done it before.” Intercut with this scene, we see various groups setting out for Hannaford’s 70th birthday party at his Arizona ranch, including Hannaford and his young protégé Brooks Otterlake (played by Peter Bogdanovich), a young, commercially successful director who has a talent for mimicking well-known celebrities. (Bogdanovich, then a successful young director, also has a talent for mimicry.) One of the people they share their car with is the obnoxious cineaste reporter Mr. Pister (Joseph McBride), whose flurry of intrusive questions culminates in, “Mr. Hannaford, in the body of your film work, how significantly would you relate the trauma of your father’s suicide?” and he is thrown out of Hannaford’s car.
Stranded in the desert, Pister hitches a lift on a bus that is taking crew and reporters to Hannaford’s birthday party. Although there are many journalists in the bus, they are also carrying several dozen life-size clay dolls of Hannaford’s leading man, taken from the set of the unfinished film. The scene is indicative of the experimental nature of the picture, and includes much overlapping dialogue: a tape recorder belonging to reporter Juliette Riche (Susan Strasberg) playing back Hannaford’s voice, while a member of Hannaford’s entourage Pat (Edmond O’Brien) reads out an authoritarian anti-hippy diatribe of Hannaford’s, fellow reporter Pister struggles to thread the tape back onto his reel-to-reel tape recorder, and at the same time, film footage of the scene is rapidly intercut with footage from Hannaford’s film. Further scenes depict the festivities at Hannaford’s party, including fireworks, assorted midgets, and a musical number with John Carroll leading a rendition of “The Glow-Worm”.
Many of the journalists attending are all brandishing cameras, and the film follows the perspectives of individual journalists as they follow Hannaford everywhere, even to the toilet, asking personal questions. In the second half of the film they begin querying Hannaford’s sexuality and whether he has long been a closet homosexual, in spite of his macho public persona. Each camera’s footage is displayed in a distinctive style, representing the perspectives of different directors and cameramen. Throughout the film, there is rapid inter-cutting between simultaneous conversations at Hannaford’s party, so that the viewer hears a few lines of dialogue from one conversation, switches to another conversation, then another, before returning to more of the original conversation. (A similar technique was used in the 1998 restoration of Welles’ ‘Touch of Evil’.) Several party guests comment on the conspicuous absence of John Dale (played by Bob Random), Hannaford’s androgynous-looking, leather-clad leading man in his last film, whom Hannaford first discovered when Dale was attempting suicide by jumping into the Pacific Ocean off the Mexican coast. Meanwhile, guests are shown more scenes from the film in the private cinema Hannaford has at the ranch.
The scenes of the film-within-the-film intercut throughout the film include:
A scene set in a Turkish bath, which plays over the opening titles.
John Dale’s onscreen character pursuing “The red, red Indian” (Oja Kodar) on his motorcycle, with increasing ambiguity as to which of them is pursuing the other. These scenes involve extensive use of flat landscapes and plains; and tall, high-rise glass skyscrapers, the mirrors and windows of which form various optical illusions reminiscent of the ‘hall of mirrors’ scene in Welles’ earlier The Lady from Shanghai. (This is mixed in with the sound of the audience responding unenthusiastically.)
A graphic sex scene between Random and Kodar in a station wagon being driven through heavy rain, culminating in the driver of the car (Robert Aiken) throwing Kodar out.
A sexual dream sequence involving Kodar walking at least partially nude in front of a giant black phallus. (Commentary from Huston can be heard through this.) This short scene was directed by Kodar.
The violent death of John Dale’s character in the film-within-the-film.
A graphic sex scene between Random and Kodar, filmed from below, looking through the bedsprings in the style of Russ Meyer. The scene takes place on a rusting bed in a deserted movie lot. Throughout this scene, Hannaford provides increasingly voyeuristic and intrusive/abusive off-screen direction, prompting an enraged and humiliated John Dale to storm off the set.
As the party continues, Hannaford gets progressively drunker. He is washing his face in the bathroom when he tearfully breaks down in front of Otterlake, asking for the young director’s help to revive his flagging career, and desperately trying to sober up before returning to the screening of his still-unfinished film. A power outage in the middle of Hannaford’s party interrupts the screening mid-way. The party continues by lantern-light, and eventually reconvenes to an empty drive-in cinema, where the last portion of Hannaford’s film is screened. Later in the film, Dale arrives at the party. At one point, a drunken Hannaford makes a pass at Dale, and is rebuffed. Hannaford has a history of seducing the wife or girlfriend of each of his leading men, but maintains a strong attraction to the leading men themselves. Hannaford then uses a rifle from his Indian trophy room to shoot several life-sized clay dolls of Dale. This is paralleled by a subplot about the unnamed actress playing “The red red Indian” seducing Dale at Hannaford’s party and being rebuffed, leading to her shooting at him towards the end of the film. Dale is no longer alive by the end of the film.
Having relocated to the drive-in cinema, intrusive journalist Juliette Riche asked Hannaford the most explicit questions of all about his sexuality. At this moment, Billy Boyle stops the film cameras, although with the soundtrack still running, and through a montage of still photos, we gather that Hannaford violently assaults Riche. The film’s final scene features Hannaford’s sports car – which he had originally bought as a present for Dale – crashing into the screen of the drive-in cinema, killing him. At the time, the screen had been projecting the end of Hannaford’s new film, and the sun sets behind it. It is left ambiguous whether his death was the result of drunk driving or suicide.
A monologue from Hannaford is heard in voice-over during the final scene:
Remember those Berbers – up in the Atlas? They wouldn’t let us point a camera at ‘em. They’re certain that it…dries up something. The old eye, y’know, behind the magic box. Could be it’s an evil eye at that…Medusa’s…Who knows, maybe you can stare too hard at something. Huh? Drain out the virtue; suck out the living juice…You shoot the great places and the pretty people – all those girls and boys…shoot ‘em dead…
The film concludes as Hannaford’s voice says, “Cut!”
Voyeurism was a considerable sexual interest of Welles in his later years. F For Fake evokes it playfully The Big Brass Ring less so. The Other Side of the Wind had something very serious in mind in its sex scenes (a fragment of which used to be available on You Tube ) it’s directly related to the principle character conflicts. The Other Side of the Wind may have been initially inspired by Welles’ encounter with Hemingway but it also evokes John Ford — whose closeted gayness was discussed quite straightforwardly by Maureen O’Hara in her memoirs.
While not probably gay himself, Welles was a humungous Fag-Hag. He was fascinated by gay men ever since his first acting gigs for Michael MacLiammoir at the Abbey Theater — who went on to play Iago so memorably for Welles in Othello. Other Gays of import to him include Marc Blitzstein (whose The Cradle Will Rock he directed), Francois Reichenbach (see F For Fake) and of course Elmyr (ditto)
Welles financed the movie by taking on television roles and by tapping investors. One of them was Mehdi Bushehri, brother-in-law of the shah of Iran and an investor in Astrophore. He later clashed with Welles over spending and took control of the negative reels in France, which is why they remained in the suburban Paris warehouse.
Welles left behind a roughly 45-minute edited work print. Mysteriously, he managed to smuggle it out of Paris in 1975 in a van and he shipped it to California. Ms. Kodar said she has it now in Primosten, on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, where she lives.
“I am going to sign the contract,” Ms. Kodar, 73, said in a telephone interview from there on Tuesday. “The catalyst is the hundred-year anniversary and everybody is moving in a kind of wave. When I finally see it on the screen, then I will tell you that the film is done.”
For decades, others tried to acquire rights to complete the film, including Mr. Bogdanovich, Showtime and Gary Graver, the director’s final cinematographer. But those efforts failed because they were unable to strike a common deal among the rights holders, who favored different approaches to the finished product. French laws protecting artists’ rights gave Beatrice Welles — as the direct descendant — sole legal control over the reels. She had blocked their removal from storage.
“It’s hard to say why it’s coming together now except that everybody realizes that the longer we wait the less people will be around to know Orson’s wishes,” said Frank Marshall, 68, who was a line producer on “The Other Side of the Wind.” “Everybody recognizes that it’s the last chance.” Mr. Marshall — who was also a producer for Steven Spielberg — tried for years with Mr. Bogdanovich to get the picture completed.
In 2012, Mr. Marshall joined with Filip Jan Rymsza, of Royal Road, to approach Ms. Welles in Sedona, Ariz., and Ms. Kodar, who also acted in the film.
“They figured out a way to get everybody involved,” said Mr. Karp, the author. “Their effort is incredible. The last few years of this have been so fraught with so many deals that didn’t happen because people screwed up in the last minute.”
Ms. Welles, who manages the Welles estate, said a visit by Mr. Rymsza and Mr. Marshall was the key.
“It took the right people to come along,” she said. “They wanted to talk to me and did not want any outsiders. Until now this movie has been under lock and key under French law. I had the good fortune to be able to protect it. When we talked, we laughed and joked. It was just this amazing rapport. What came through to me was their true love of art.”
In the middle of this month, Mr. Rymsza saw the reels for the first time, marked in neat handwriting with the name of the film. “I was relieved to see it was in such good condition — no mold or any degradation and the materials were in their original boxes,” he said.
Mr. Rymsza, 38, said he was being backed by a private equity investor whom he declined to name. The Americas Film Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, also helped finance the effort to locate the reels, he said.
With the signing of the agreement, the next step is to ship the reels to Los Angeles, where veterans from the original project will carry on the next phase.
“We will set up a cutting room and Peter Bogdanovich and I will assemble the film,” Mr. Marshall said. “We have notes from Orson Welles. We have scenes that weren’t quite finished, and we need to add music. We will get it done. The good news is that it won’t take so long because of all of the technology today.”
Mr. Marshall and other participants in the film, like Mr. Bogdanovich, savor the memories of Welles’s low budget, guerrilla style, shooting available actors from Arizona to Spain.
They filmed in color and black and white and in 35 millimeter, 16 millimeter and Super 8 formats. The young crew would sneak into a movie lot or a California drive-in, posing as university film students if anyone demanded production permits, Mr. Marshall recalled. He said he often invoked the famous Welles name to requisition props like a human skeleton or a Porsche. Welles supplied his own Oscar statuette, won for “Citizen Kane,” for his main character to brandish on film.
But wait — there’s more!
And Oja to be sure has even more in her archives.
IOW, Orson Welles, dead for some 29 years is more alive than ever.
Take it away Ethel