Why Orson Welles’s ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ is still unseen, 27 years after his death
By LAWRENCE FRENCH
Orson Welles had completed most of the principal photography on The Other Side of the Wind by 1976, and shortly afterwards the film became embroiled in legal entanglements with it's Iranian backers. As a result, Welles found himself once again forced to abandon a cherished project, in this case the movie that he hoped would be his testament, as well as his triumphant comeback film, especially after the renewed interest in Welles work that was generated by the AFI Lifetime achievement award, held in March, 1975.
In this 1977 letter to the film’s primary backer, Medhi Bouscheri of Les Films de l’Astrophore, Welles explains why he had finally decided to abandon work on the film:
"My own first priority, for much too long now, has been The Other Side of the Wind. Tragically, very little of that time has been spent on constructive work. Overwhelmingly, it has been time lost in simply waiting for the chance to work—time utterly wasted. Weather in the movie business is highly changeable. The market itself fluctuates quite wildly, and my “market value” both as a performer and filmmaker has slipped to the lowest point in all my career.
The Film Institute Tribute dramatized the presumed advent of The Other Side of the Wind. That picture, so eagerly looked forward to, has failed to appear. And for me, professionally, that failure has been mortal. As a director, my reputation by now appears to have been blackened beyond reparation. In this industry — in this small town — two things are said of me today. “That picture isn’t finished yet — the Crazy Welles...” and “No use offering him a part, he’ll turn it down; he doesn’t want to work.”
The Tribute should have been a turning point. It certainly created for me a notable renewal of interest on the part of the Hollywood Community. During the year that followed, and for several months after that, I received any number of film, theatre and TV offers — all of which I turned down. What I could have accepted (without any conflict in time) comes — according to Weissberger’s (Welles's lawyer) documentation — to something more than two million dollars.
I sacrificed all this, as you know, in order to keep myself free for the completion of our film...
I have been in the performing arts, working for my living, for some forty-seven years. I have never been rich. In this rather ridiculous business we learn to sustain ourselves on hope and enthusiasm. So I’ve never been really poor.
But today I find myself not only without income, but without prospects. With my professional credit destroyed, it’s not too easy — in the sixty-second year of my life — to make plans for a fresh start.
Here are some comments Welles made from 1980, 10 years after he had begun shooting on the film, indicating he had little hope that it would ever be finished, since not only had the film become dated, but Medhi Bouscheri controlled the negative, and Welles was not allowed access to it.
ORSON WELLES: When I started The Other Side of the Wind it was about a kind of fanaticism—the greatest man in the movie world being the "master auteur." That was what I was going to knock on its head. And it's still true, to an extent, so I can refer to it, but I have to find other subject matter as well, otherwise it will be horribly dated. And that's the essential problem of movies. I've said this before, and I haven't tired of repeating it: the greatest handicap of the motion picture form is that every movie that's ever been made is out of date. By the process of making a movie, which takes so long, it is, by necessity, a year or more out of date. A movie should be journalistic, it should reflect the mood of the moment in which the author thinks it up and makes it, not the next year, because the world—Christ knows—as it rolls toward its doom, is kaleidoscopically changing.
Q: So your approach to The Other Side of the Wind has now changed?
ORSON WELLES: Yes, by necessity, if you have a picture as interrupted as this one was, rather than in the way that F For Fake had to change. It was a picture about a contemporary world, and you see the total, unjustified eclipse of Antonioni and people like him… the vanishing of Fellini. I find that the young people are now more interested in becoming billionaires, like Francis Ford Coppola, than they are in being great men of the movie world. In other words, I think that the dream of these hundreds of young people—who are wasting their money and their youth in the universities, hoping to become movie directors—can only be seen from a satirical point of view. Such a tiny amount of them will ever become directors that one wonders what the education system is up to. But there they all are, studying the cinema and its history, with all of the cliché, stereotyped opinions, which have been handed down form one critic to another.
Of course, Welles never did finish the film, and after he died in 1985, Gary Graver, Oja Kodar and Peter Bogdanovich met off and on through the years with various studio executives and other possible financiers, showing them various rough cuts of the film, which rather ironically, by all reports went almost like a scene straight out of the movie!
Gary Graver told me about several screenings he had with footage from the film for various different studios and agents, explaining that, "because it's not a completed story in a finished narrative form, you were just seeing a scene here and a scene there, so people would say they don't know what it's all about. Well, you're not going to understand it, or see it all put together, until we get the money to do that. And then they would say, 'Well, we don't want to put any money into it, until it's all put together'."
In this scene from the script, Billy Boyle (Norman Foster) has just finished showing studio head Max David (Geoffrey Land) a rough assemblage of footage from Jake Hannaford's film, and it has not gone well:
INTERIOR: THE STUDIO PROJECTION ROOM
Understand Max – This isn't even a
ROUGH-CUT. You're going to have to see
the entire movie –
Sure. And Jake's going to have to
A flash of BILLY'S anguished face.
Like I told you Max, an awful lot of
the footage is out at the ranch...
We'll be screening it for you at the
Clearly unimpressed, MAX gets up and walks up the aisle. A disappointed BILLY gets up and follows him out.
Much later, at Jake's birthday party, Max fails to show up to view the rest of the footage. Jakes and Brook's Otterlake, the successful young director who has a deal at Max's studio, discuss the situation:
(from the bathroom)
You might just lean a little on Max David...
YOU do the leaning, he's gotta give.
I did set up the screening –
So you did... He hated every frame –-
He was CONFUSED.
He's an idiot, Jake. You know that.
They're all idiots.
He's your idiot.
Up to a point.
Don't be pompous, kid... Not that
I don't understand. YOU made the company
all that loot. Christ knows I didn’t.
Don't think I'm not going to put up a fight
about it. I will.
JAKE comes to the door.
But you don't want to.
I don't want to have to listen to Max and
the rest of those stupid sods turning you
JAKE looks at him...
We'll find a way... You know that,
Don't give up the ship, Davey?
Didn't I tell you? This scene will
After scenes like this were played out for years in screening rooms around Hollywood, Medhi Bouscheri died and Oja Kodar finally reached an agreement to finish The Other Side of the Wind with his widow, Jacqueline Bouscheri. Financing would be provided by Matthew Duda at Showtime. Yet just as that deal was set to happen, it suddenly fell apart when Beatrice Welles objected, saying only a documentary approach could be taken towards finishing the project. Kari Elovuori spoke with Oja Kodar in 2003, who explained how Beatrice Welles's claims had wrecked the Showtime deal:
KARI ELOVUORI: Getting back to The Other Side of The Wind, can you finish the film if you get the money, or has Beatrice Welles’ lawsuit put an end to that?
OJA KODAR: Actually, she is suing everybody but me. It’s ironic that she is suing everybody but me. But the fact is, she signed the papers for the settlement of the estate, so she can no longer sue me. She lost and I won. (Which means Oja Kodar now controls all the rights to the uncompleted Welles projects, which Orson Welles specifically left to Oja Kodar in his will). But because of what she said about the moral rights pertaining to The Other Side of the Wind, she does not want the film to be finished, she only wants the film to be seen as a documentary. Showtime wanted to finish the film (as a feature) and they had all the money to do that (before Beatrice filed her lawsuit), but now they are limited by this, so it means they can only make a documentary. But they are not willing to do that, which I understand perfectly well. They can’t commit the same amount of money to a documentary film. So they have reduced the budget, and now we are looking for new financiers in Europe and so on. We need to get the rest of the money and sell it by territory or something like that. So Beatrice is a problem because she imposed this condition on the film. I don't know what to call it, a dictate or whatever, to make only a documentary out of the film. But the basic problem for us now is how to find the money.
KARI ELOVUORI: How have you managed through all these years with all of this fighting going on?
OJA KODAR: It is really unbelievable, but there it is. It has been going on and on for the last 30 years.
KARI ELOVUORI: Is there any real hope of getting the film finished?
OJA KODAR: There is always hope. I’ve been hoping for 30 years now. I am addicted to hope. I cannot, I really cannot accept (that it will not be finished). I will fight, but I don’t know how to find the money to finish the film. It is a great shame not to show this movie, not only for Orson, but it is as great shame for John Huston. In this film he is absolutely marvelous. You have never seen anything he’s done like it (as an actor).
Given that Oja Kodar and Peter Bogdanovich are now both one year older than Orson Welles was when he died, and nothing has happened in the 27 years since Welles passed away, perhaps it is time to take the project to Welles small but dedicated band of followers and allow them to finish the film as Scott Baldwin recently suggested:
"Welles legacy would be well served if someone with access got fed up with the efforts of Bogdanovich and Kodar et al, and posted the material to the web (Wikileaks) and invite the fans of the world who are are possessed of the means of finishing the fragments (i.e. computer editing) to do so. No doubt, some ambitious future filmmaker will edit and make sense of this treasure.
The footage is out there somewhere."
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