IS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND
By Lawrence French
I never go to see my movies once they're finished, because they're on film, in a tin can and can never be changed. If you direct a play, it's opened, and if you see it again after it's been running awhile, and you don't like it too well, you can take the cast and say, "well, we'll have a rehearsal tomorrow, we'll rewrite that scene, we'll play that a little differently," but a movie is locked up forever. You can always do it better, but you can't change a finished movie. So I never see my movies, because it makes me nervous not to be able to change anything. I have two main projects which are unfinished. One is THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND and when I tell you that my partner in that project is the brother-in-law of the late Shaw of Iran, you will understand why we are having a little legal difficulty. The other unfinished film is DON QUIXOTE, which was a private exercise of mine, and it will be finished as an author would finish it- in my own good time, when I feel like it. It is not unfinished because of financial reasons. And when it is released, it's title is going to be "WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO FINISH DON QUIXOTE?"
It would seem probable that one reason why Orson Welles left so many unfinished films behind him, was not due to any "fear of completion," but more likely, because of the intense joy he received during the editing process. He has stated many times how he loved to go on tinkering with his films, mentioning in one interview that he could still be editing CITIZEN KANE, if he hadn't been obliged by the studio to complete it. Therefore, once a movie was finished and in the theaters, Welles would be forever denied the pleasure of working on it, and consequently, would get little or no pleasure from seeing the film again.
As a result, a project like DON QUIXOTE, which was privately financed by Welles, was probably never intended to be released. On the other hand, Welles obviously hoped to finish THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, since he accepted outside backing for the film (unfortunately from Iran), and also attempted to get "end money" from the major studios, by showing excerpts from the movie at his 1975 AFI Life Achievement Awards dinner. But like DON QUIXOTE, much of the filming and editing on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND was done at Welles' leisure, and he was never beholden to a studio, who could have demanded a fixed completion date. This method of working allowed him to continually revise elements of the film, as his ever inventive mind came up with new story and editing ideas. Unfortunately, it also allowed Welles to procrastinate and continue fiddling endlessly with the movie, so that now many of the film's story elements and settings- if it's ever released- will appear to be hopelessly dated. Indeed, even Welles unique filming style of using multiple cameras and film formats- which would have seemed innovative had the film come out in 1976- has now been done ad infinitum by TV commercials and films like Oliver Stone's NATURAL BORN KILLERS.
In any case, there's little doubt that the film is a key work in Welles' oeuvre, and a fascinating story that should be seen, even if it's in a fragmentary or uncompleted form. Welles' script was originally written in the early sixties as a story about bullfighting, entitled THE SACRED BEASTS, which later metamorphosed into the story of a Hollywood director, who in early drafts was based on Rex Ingram and Ernest Hemingway. In the script extracts I've seen, it's obvious that frequent revisions were being made to the scenario, and that Welles (despite his protests to the contrary), has drawn on many elements of his own life to create a fictional portrait of a movie director (just as CITIZEN KANE was a fictional portrait of a newspaper publisher, with elements taken from the life of William Randolph Hearst).
The story was to begin, like CITIZEN KANE and OTHELLO, with the death of the main character, Jake Hannaford, and then go back to the events leading up to Hannaford's demise in a car crash, with Welles providing an ironic opening narration. As Welles told Peter Bogdanovich, he liked using that kind of opening: "I like it in Elizabethan plays. In the primitive theater, too, you find somebody coming out front and telling what it's all about. I just got through writing an opening exactly like that for "The Other Side of the Wind." We tell what it is (about) and then, really, you could go home if you want to."
The flashbacks would begin with Jake shooting a scene for his movie in progress, depicting the death of his young leading man, John Dale, whom the macho director is secretly enamored with. To stage Dale's death, Hannaford is using a dummy, due to the danger involved in the scene, (or possibly because he has recently fired the actor). Jake continually re-takes the scene, ostensibly because he's displeased with the results he's getting, but he is also getting a certain perverse pleasure in seeing his leading man perish, over and over again. Finally, the crew wraps for the day and proceeds to the studio parking lot where all of Hannaford's crew has gathered, as well as numerous members of the news media, who are all going out to a birthday party for Jake, being thrown (in different versions of the script) by Marlene Dietrich or Jeanne Moreau (both apparently declined to appear in the film as themselves, so the role eventually went to Lilli Palmer).
Stylistically, besides the flashbacks, Welles planned perhaps his most complex and intricate structure, not only through the use of different film formats, but also by using his trademark overlapping dialogue and densely packed soundtrack. The scenes on the bus, taking the crew and reporters to Jake's birthday party, for instance, would have Susan Strasberg's tape recorder playing Jake's voice, while another reporter (Mr. Pister) reads Jake's comments, and at the same time, the images onscreen would be footage from Jake's film in progress (presumably intercut with the various characters on the bus). This would, no doubt make for a dazzling cinematic kaleidoscope, which can only be hinted at by a reading of Welles' script. One can only wonder at what marvels Welles might have accomplished, had he lived a few more years and been able to edit the film with the resources of an Avid, and 6-channel Dolby stereo.
The film's ending seems to have gone through many changes, as in early script drafts, Welles had Hannaford get into a car driven by John Dale, and then drive off with him to perish in a spectacular car wreck. Later revisions had Jake- who has been drinking all evening at his birthday party- make an overt pass at his handsome leading man, only to be rebuffed by the actor. Jake would then drunkenly drive off in a red sports car (which he had been planning to give to Dale as a gift), and die when the car crashes. This ending would have nicely paralleled the opening scene, where Jake is staging the death of John Dale for his movie. In the end, Hannaford stages his own real-life death, and ironically his comeback film will remain unfinished- just as Welles' THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND has been for the last 25 years.