Film: The Other Side of the Wind

Wow, what a a fascinating glance backwards at cinematic history. The Other Side of the Wind (2018), Orson Welles’ long-lost, experimental final film that was recently completed and released by Netflix, is a difficult-to-summarize mockumentary about a legendary, fictional Hollywood director named Jake Hannaford (John  Huston). As he approaches his final birthday, Hannaford is struggling to complete his latest film The Other Side of the Wind, but that doesn’t prevent him from celebrating the work, as a posse of Hollywood sycophants follow him out to his California ranch to screen raw footage, drink, and reminisce about the master’s career. As the night progresses, however, the brilliant director’s legend slowly starts to unravel as his friends, rivals, proteges, and lovers argue his legacy, and troubling new truths about his current, doomed project are outed.

Characterized by chaotic behind-the-scenes energy, frenetic editing, and an improvisational feel riddled with clever, profoundish turns of phrase, The Other Side of the Wind is a gloriously meta tale both of Hollywood and about it. I’m not certain it will resonate much with non-cinema buffs, but as a fan of the medium in general and the era in particular—it was shot over the course of six years in the early 1970s—I found it utterly riveting as a historical glimpse of Hollywood yesteryear. One very much gets the sense of Welles, the innovative filmmaker, wrestling with his own legend, even as he seeks to debunk it. The cast is populated by a delightful mix of familiar actors from the era, including Peter Bogdanovich, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmond O’Brien, Lilli Palmer, Gregory Sierra, and Susan Strasberg, among others. Considering the time it was shot, The Other Side of the Wind feels very much ahead of its time, a quirky, “found-footage” mockumentary with a striking sense of style and atmosphere. For viewers with a strong interest in the history of film, this is a must-see experience.

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