Peter Bogdanovich: “Showtime has greenlit work to finish Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND”
Craig Weinstein and Drew Reiber, two Wellesnet correspondents in Florida wrote to report that Peter Bogdanovich appeared at the Florida Film Festival in Orlando last night (March 30th) and announced that Showtime's long simmering deal to finance the completion of The Other Side of the Wind has finally been consummated.
Apparently the contract was as good as signed, and while on the surface, this is very good news, as with anything pertaining to The Other Side of the Wind, there are many obstacles that still may appear. However, there is little doubt that this is a giant step forward in getting the film completed.
As Bogdanovich told Weinstein and Reiber, "We now have a lot of work ahead of us." That work will begin with taking inventory of all the footage that has been locked away in film vaults for over 30 years.
Bogdanovich's plan is to attempt to assemble the footage as closely to Welles original vision as is possible. He outlined his approach in the Searching For Orson documentary:
BOGDANOVICH: This is Orson Welles only unrealized film project that could possibly be completed without the great man himself. There are many arguments to support this hope. But my goal would be to work with everybody who worked on the picture, Oja Kodar, and anybody who was around a lot. Frank Marshall was there for quite a while, so I would ask them what they all remember, and we would all pool are memories of what Orson had in mind. The idea would be to try and get as close as we can to what Orson had in mind, following the script and following notes that he made, and things he said to Oja about writing the script, and things he might have said to me. There's a certain rhythm (in the film) that he obviously had in mind, and we'd try to get to that kind of rhythm, depending on the scene and also depending on the things we know about Orson.
And here are Peter Bogdanovich�s thoughts about The Other Side of the Wind from his 1997 introduction to This Is Orson Welles.
One afternoon Orson told me about a picture he planned to do next, the one that would turn out to be his last, about the final days of an aging film director, which eventually became known as "The Other Side of the Wind."� Earlier, in Paris, Orson had been pacing up and down the street one night, arguing with himself as to who should play the old director, he or John Huston wanting to keep the plum role for himself, saying: "Why should I give that great part away?" but feeling that Huston was more right for it (and Huston, who was eventually cast, gives the performance of his life). In late 1970 Orson had rented a house in the Hollywood Hills and after taping a couple of Dean Martin TV shows and acting in one or two brief movie roles, started shooting "The Other Side of the Wind" with his own money, and continued to film sporadically for several years on locations all over Los Angeles and around Phoenix, Arizona. He did this with the smallest of crews imaginable, with no sets, no costumes, little equipment, but great good spirits and incredible ingenuity. At first I was marshaled into playing a thinly disguised parody of myself or at least myself in my "serious-cinema-interviewer" role, doing a book on Jake Hannaford, the old director and the film's central character.� We shot at the LA airport, just under the spot where the planes come in for a landing and, with careful instruction, improvised the dialogue. Later we shot some hilarious party sequences at Orson's house, during which I found myself doing the sort of comic caricature I had no idea I was capable of even attempting in the privacy of the shower, much less in front of a dozen people. But acting for Orson is really easy or, rather, he makes it seem easy. He is the kind of director who makes you better than you really are. Of course, he does that in life, too.
Orson would keep acting in or narrating other films in order to finance "The Other Side of the Wind," just as he had done in the late forties and early fifties for "Othello". Since it was usually his own money that he spent on his films as it had been for many of his thirties and forties theater productions Orson didn't see why he had to explain or in any way justify his work habits, any more than a painter had some moral responsibility to decide which painting to finish first. Which, of course, Orson would say, only led people to make remarks like: "You see, even when it's his own money, he can't get it together." The whole truth is that he often had to stop in order to do some more acting to raise money: but then he would have to wait for his actors to become available again, which meant he might have to start something else. Personally he wasn't happy acting and told me many times that he would much prefer to give that up and only direct. But Welles the fading star continued to finance Welles the struggling and infamously independent picturemaker.
In 1973 when I arrived at Welles' rented house built against a mountain in Carefree, Arizona, to resume shooting, my initial role, (as Mr. Pister), had been taken over by Joseph McBride, and Orson had moved me up to the leading role (of Brooks Otterlake), a successful young film director�and at that time I was a successful young film director.�
Orson was using the same skeleton crew he'd gathered in Hollywood.� The place was filled with equipment and props, some rather bizarre�like a dozen dummies all made to resemble Bob Random, one of the leading actors in the picture�and these were strewn around in various attitudes, which is not a little disconcerting when you think you're entering an empty room and find these bodies lying around.� Orson and I sat and talked in the living room for an hour, mainly exchanging recent experiences and anecdotes, laughing uproariously, without once discussing the role or picture.� Finally I said, "Don't we have to shoot?"� Welles shook his head:� "there's no hurry.� I want you to be comfortable and happy."� I told Orson I was happy so he said let's look at the clothes I had brought from my own wardrobe.� He went rapidly through the suitcase-full and put together a couple of outfits, all within a few minutes.� I said that, although the shirts, pants and sweaters were all my clothes, I'd never worn them in the combination he had pulled.� "Well," Orson said triumphantly, "there you are!� Now you know how a successful young film director dresses!"�� And he could transform you just as quickly in the acting�as I was to learn after another half hour or so of just talking and laughing.�
What a precious, irreplaceable time it was; being directed by Welles was like breathing pure oxygen all day long.� He was so totally in control that he never had to prove a point of any kind.� I never saw him get angry or impatient, or raise his voice in any way but hilarity.� Occasionally he'd admonish you to hurry up if the light was going or an accidental train was passing by which he wanted to photograph you next to, but generally a most lighthearted atmosphere always prevailed, one that made you feel there was no such thing as wrong, only different.� Sometimes Orson was holding the camera himself, but wherever the camera was, he had put it there, and all the lights were placed exactly where he said they were to be put.� There wasn't anything seen or heard in any scene that wasn't there because Orson wanted it that way, yet he was never dictatorial.� At the last moment he might change the words he gave you, but then he had perhaps just given you the lines a few minutes before that.� He went an average of seven takes on most scenes, often less, occasionally quite a few more.� In one shot, something triggered something in me and I couldn't stop breaking up.� In the scene I had to trot in with a rifle.� I would arrive and start laughing.� This broke up the other actors and it got out of hand for about fifteen or twenty minutes.� Orson laughed each time, never got annoyed or even mildly exasperated; a couple of times he himself started the laughter from off-camera.� On another scene, he was continually convulsed by the look of one of the actors' hair, and this led to a quarter-hour of uncontrollable laugher.
Welles would keep on working, however, until someone finally cried "uncle," said they were hungry, or needed a break�usually someone in the tiny and overworked non-union crew�and he'd go along with it, not always happily. One time everybody went to lunch except Orson and me.� He had said he wasn't hungry, so I'd said the same to keep him company.� Ten minutes after we were alone, he said, "Are you hungry?� I'm absolutely starving!"� I admitted I was too, so we went into the kitchen and from the top of the refrigerator he pulled the largest bag of Fritos I had ever seen, ripped off a two-inch strip across the top of the bag, splashed out a large portion onto the kitchen table, sat, took a huge handful, and shoved it into his mouth.� I did exactly the same and we sat there chewing seriously for several minutes before Orson could finally manage to say, confidentially, still chewing, and with a gleefully manic look: "You know�you don't gain weight�if nobody sees you eating!"�
Another time, everyone had gone to lunch and only Welles and I and Oja Kodar�also acting in the film, and Orson's long-time companion�stayed, and toward the end of the meal he said, "Look, if anything ever happens to me, I want you to promise you'll finish the picture for me."� I was both very touched and very troubled; I said, "Oh, Orson, don't talk that way, nothing's going to happen to you.� You're going to finish the picture."� Welles patiently nodded and said quietly, "I know.� But, if anything does happen, will you promise me you'll finish it?"� He held my look.� "Of course," I said.� "I would, but�" He cut me off with a nod. "That's all," he said.� "Let's move on."�
But something did happen�he died before the film could be fully edited�and I had made a promise I have not yet been able to keep.� To edit a picture and get it exactly the way he would have done it is patently impossible because Orson did all his own cutting.� I watched him zip through many cuts on his Steenbeck�like a painter or potter, molding the work as he went, changing his mind as his instinct took him.� Orson was extraordinarily "in the moment" and this made everything he touched fresh because it was for him, too.�
After Welles and I became close, he stayed at my Bel Air home�while I was in town and out�in aggregate for nearly two years.� Many scenes were shot there for "The Other Side of the Wind," which some Iranian money�from the Shah of Iran's brother-in-law no less�kept the film going until the completion of shooting. This, after another producer ran back to Europe with $250,000. of Orson's money and was never heard from again (although I recently saw that person on TV accepting an Oscar for co-producing the Best Foreign Film of the year).� After my second, third and fourth pictures became popular, I was in a much better position to help Orson, and a number of pictures almost did get made. Then, when my stock eventually went down because of a couple of financial flops, I suddenly had trouble convincing a studio even to pay Orson his normal salary as an actor on a movie I was going to direct, "Nickelodeon."� Because of a dispute with the studio, in which Welles encouraged me to fight in the name of quality, I got into my first bad scrap with an executive, urged on by Orson's advice to stand fast by black-and-white. The project was abruptly canceled (though later reestablished at far worse terms) and when I told him, Orson made what I thought at the time was a strange remark: "Well that's the end of my career in Hollywood." It felt as though I should be saying that, but Welles was right�nothing again worked out into a deal for him in the U.S.�
One other picture, "Saint Jack," almost got made with Orson directing.� But after many delays around casting, two of the partners in the project�one of them rights-owner Hugh Hefner, the other co-producer/co-owner/co-writer and my steady, Cybill Shepherd�wanted me to direct instead, and because of my commitment to her in a legal, financial, and personal way, I eventually felt obliged to do the job.� Welles said he understood, but, but in effect this ended our work together.� What had been a kind of specter behind our friendship�that I was in some way playing Prince Hal to his King Henry IV�had finally become a reality neither of us had wanted.� It was the role I actually did play for him to John Huston's aging "King" in "The Other Side of the Wind"�the older director supplanted by or, in mythic terms, killed by the younger one.� I had never looked at it that way, but clearly he had, or else he would not have written the character in his film so much like me in at least the external aspects of the role.�
I've watched Orson Welles direct, and I've been directed as a lead actor by Welles, and I doubt if anyone can ever come close, because Welles was a director like no other I've seen or experienced: able at once to make his actors feel so extraordinarily comfortable that nothing seems impossible�on the contrary, everything feels easy and organic to oneself�yet one is only doing exactly what Orson wants.� Taking credit away from Welles is easy for most people to accept because it's difficult to imagine how much he did unless you had seen it.� No other director I've observed is comparable as a measure: with great congeniality Orson directed everything.� Among others, I've seen John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and Howard Hawks at work, but Welles made them all seem in some way conventional next to the hands-on, yet free and breezy, atmosphere Orson created, sustained by his unquenchable energy, invention, speed and humor.� It was such fun acting for Welles that it didn't matter what the scene was or what he asked you to do, you would do anything for him�and could: he made you better than you are.���