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“This is a movie that everybody in this room, myself included, has been waiting decades to see,” Kent Jones, director of the New York Film Festival, said Saturday at a screening of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind.
The event was preceded by a showing of They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a companion documentary that details Other Side of the Wind‘s 48-year-long production process.
After the screenings, moderators Jones and Martin Scorsese sat down with producers Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza, executive producer and star Peter Bogdanovich, editor Bob Murawski and They’ll Love Me director Morgan Neville to discuss their reactions to Other Side of the Wind and speculate about the impact the film’s prolonged production had on the late Welles.
“I was totally surprised by what I saw. It was, in turn, exhilarating and so distressing,” said Scorsese of the film. The “distress,” he clarified, came from knowing of Welles’ unsuccessful efforts to get the film made during his lifetime. “So distressing,” Scorsese lamented to the panelists, “[to see] somebody you love, someone that means so much to you — and I don’t know him, you guys know him, I only met him once — go through that agony, that pain.”
Bogdanovich, who was Welles’ close friend and protégé until his death in 1985, said of the film, “It’s sad to me. It’s a very sad story, it’s a sad movie, it’s an ‘end of everything’ kind of movie. The only thing that survives is the artistry. And that’s what Orson did even in Citizen Kane, which is about as negative a movie as you can imagine. Nobody gets what they want, it all ends in tragedy, and it’s brilliantly done so that you forget that and say, ‘harder.’ And that’s what you say in this. The artistry saves you from death. You say, ‘Orson’s alive.'”
Other Side of the Wind stars John Huston as Jake Hannaford, an aging director who struggles to secure financing for his New Hollywood-inspired art film after its star John Dale (Bob Random) drops out in the middle of production. The action mainly takes place at Hannaford’s 70th birthday party, where biographer Brooks Otterlake (Bogdanovich), film critic Juliette Riche (Susan Strasberg) and the unnamed female co-star of Hannaford’s film (Oja Kodar) are among the partygoers in attendance.
Like many of Welles’ films, Other Side of the Wind is notable for its technical innovations: its blending of black-and-white and color images, its fast-paced editing, its documentary shooting style and its nearly 35-minute film-within-a-film starring Kodar, Welles’ muse and mistress.
“He was trying to create something,” Scorsese said of the movie’s innovations. “A new form of communication with the image and sound.”
Marshall and Bogdanovich, both of whom worked on the film since the 1970s, reminisced about their time on set with Welles. Marshall, originally hired as the film’s production manager, shared an anecdote about the casting of Mercedes McCambridge as Hannaford’s secretary, Maggie Fassbender. “I called up and said, ‘Ms. McCambridge, I’m Frank Marshall, I’m calling for Orson. I have a plane ticket for you. I’d like you to be in Arizona in about five days, and he mentioned you might have your wardrobe.’ And she said, ‘Young man, not only do I have my wardrobe, I have it folded and in a suitcase placed in my closet while I wait for Orson to call.'”
“That’s how they all were,” said Marshall of the film’s cast and crew. “They just knew him.”
Bogdanovich asserted Welles had the same appreciation for his actors as they did for him. “I think [Orson] was happiest when he was shooting,” he said. “He enjoyed just being on the set with the actors.”
Other Side of the Wind‘s long and winding road to the big screen began in 1970. Rejected by the studio system, Welles paid for its production through a combination of his own money and funding from controversial sources, including Mehdi Bushehri, the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran. After filming wrapped in 1976, financial and legal troubles dogged the film, preventing Welles or his estate from ever releasing it. In the late 2000s, the original film negative was recovered by Marshall and Rymsza from a vault in Paris, and the two partnered with Bogdanovich to find investors for the postproduction process. In 2017, Netflix agreed to fund and distribute the movie.
Given its infamously troubled past, film buffs have long debated whether the final cut of the pic would live up to Welles’ original intentions. According to Danny Huston, son of the film’s star, the answer is a resounding yes.
“I’m not in contact with my father or with Orson Welles, but I know those guys are up there having a real good laugh,” said Huston, who spoke from the audience at the panel. “It’s a strange thing to say with a film like this, but it feels almost seamless, so bravo.”
The Other Side of the Wind and They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead are set to premiere Nov. 2 on Netflix.
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