Book Review: ORSON WELLES’S LAST MOVIE by Josh Karp (St. Martin’s Press 2015)

There’s a lot of buzz around the film community about THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, Orson Welles’s unfinished film begun in 1970 that he worked on for almost a decade. Welles used different film stocks (8, 16, & 35 MM) and varied his styles to create a film-within-a-film focusing on the early 70’s clash between the Old Hollywood of the studio system and the New Hollywood auteurs (Welles, the ultimate auteur himself, disdained the term).  Netflix has announced the film has finally been restored and completed with the help of an Indiegogo campaign, and will be available for viewing sometime in 2018 (When, Netflix, when???). In the meantime, you can read author Josh Karp’s fascinating 2015 book ORSON WELLES’S LAST MOVIE: THE MAKING OF THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.

Karp gives us a fast-paced look behind the scenes of a genius at work, creating art on the fly despite constant financial woes. Film buffs will not be able to put this book down as we get a glimpse into Welles’s creative process, and his determination to make his film his way. Welles was a cinematic genius to be sure, but the sum of his parts was greater then the whole: a tyrant on the set, a charming personality, an obsessed madman, and an artist out to prove to the world he wasn’t ready to be put out to pasture just yet.

John Huston, Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich

We also get a seat for the long, long gestation of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND following Welles’s death in 1985, involving among many other setbacks the Iranian Revolution, his mistress Oja Kodar, daughter Beatrice, and various moneymen out to recoup their losses. The players involved in the movie read like a Who’s Who of Hollywood: John Huston , Peter Bogdanovich, Edmond O’Brien , Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper , future mega-producer Frank Marshall, and low budget cinematographer Gary Graver, whose devotion to Welles’s vision was unparalleled, and who supported himself during lean periods by making porn films (and you’ll discover how Graver got Welles to actually edit one of the things for him… I won’t tell you which!).

ORSON WELLES’S LAST MOVIE deserves to be on any film lover’s bookshelf. It’s a spellbinding look at an artist struggling against the odds to get his work onscreen the way he wants, and the aftermath of that process. Welles never did quite finish editing his film, but thanks to Netflix we’ll soon be able to see as close a proximity to his vision as humanly possible. I for one can’t wait to watch!

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