It’s not a rose-dud.
Due to budgetary and legal complications, director Orson Welles’ final film “The Other Side of the Wind” could have been a Titanic-size disaster. It took 48 years to finish and Welles, the genius director behind “Citizen Kane,” died in 1985. Decades of roadblocks and the boss’ death don’t usually add up to a hit.
But this dramedy, which began filming in 1970, is more than just a museum exhibit for film geeks. It’s a solid, entertaining, complex story packed with eccentric performances.
The best is John Huston as Jake Hannaford, a faded director who was once a mover and shaker in Hollywood. A legend, Jake is throwing a raucous birthday bash for himself at his California manse for friends, confidantes and a few enemies.
Among the invited are documentary filmmakers, whose candid recordings make up the movie we see.
But he has ulterior motives. At the party, he plans to screen his troubled new picture, also called “The Other Side of the Wind,” which the desperate filmmaker hopes will be his comeback vehicle. The movie-within-a-movie is a luscious throwback to those slightly trashy ’70s films that straddled art and porn like a gymnast.
Everybody at the fête gabs like they know Jake better than they actually do, including his Eve Harrington-like protege Brooks Otterlake, chirpily played by a young Peter Bogdanovich. Huston, with a smoky swagger, shouts at them or shares a laugh with frightening unpredictability.
The soiree descends into madness — and death — as the crowd becomes drunker and more aggressive. Shots are fired, strange mannequins creep everybody out and a film critic whines. Jake, meanwhile, gets steadily more embittered and cruel, and the film goes to a dark place.
Jake has a strange, all-consuming infatuation with his attractive male lead actor, who quit the project and walked off in a huff after being pushed too far. Jake wants to destroy the kid, as he has other stars before him. The timeliness of that 48-year-old plotline is unsettling.
All of this is filmed documentary-style, so it’s shot in a variety of camera types. It even jumps between black-and-white and color.
The movie, which was shot entirely by Welles, feels genuinely of the director’s ouvre, despite being rough around the edges. Sure, it’s no “Citizen Kane,” but “Wind” fits in snuggly with Welles boundary-pushing movies of that decade — especially 1973’s “F For Fake.”
“Wind” is weird to watch, but also invigorating and forceful. Its wild style only adds to the film’s intoxicating chaos, which surely mimicked that of Welles’ own mind.
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