What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been: Orson Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (Netflix 2018)

The day has finally arrived. November 2, 2018. I ordered a free trial of Netflix specifically so I could watch the completed version of Orson Welles’ final film, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND . Welles worked on this project for over a decade, and the footage sat for decades more before finally being restored and re-edited. A film buff’s dream come true – perhaps. There were questions I needed answered. Was there enough salvageable material to make a coherent movie? Does it follow Welles’ vision? Would it live up to the hype? Was it worth the wait?

The answer: OH, HELL YEAH!!

Welles shot over ten hours of film, utilizing different film stocks (Super 8, 16mm, 35mm), switching back and forth from color to classic black and white, to create his movie, which is a documentary about the movie-within-the-movie’s director – a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie. It took six years (from 1970-76) to shoot due to financial problems and his own perfectionism, and Welles had about a third of the film edited himself before his death in 1985. Legal battles have kept THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND unfinished and in limbo ever since, until at last producer Frank Marshall (who appeared in it as an young filmmaker) and Netflix stepped in earlier this year. A team was assembled to put the whole thing together, notably editor Bob Murawski, who (I think) painstakingly captured the vision of Welles and makes this 40+ year old film really come alive.

The film itself centers around Jake Hannaford, an Old Hollywood director attempting to reach a new audience by making a youth oriented film called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. Hannaford has just perished in a car crash (was it an accident or suicide?), and what we get is a cinema verite-style mockumentary of Hannaford’s 70th birthday party, where he’s to unveil his latest masterpiece. The film jumps all over the place with it’s multiple cast members, and Welles takes the opportunity to skewer some of his bugaboos: Old vs New Hollywood, cineastes and pretentious film school types, his critics, auteur theory (though a case could be made for Welles being the original film auteur!), studio honchos only out for a buck, macho men, sycophants and hangers-on. Using dazzling and innovative techniques coupled with some truly stunning imagery, Welles made a film way ahead of its time, and perhaps it’s just as well that it sat so long, when it can finally be appreciated.

John Huston  is incredible as the dissipated, tortured genius Hannaford, trying his damnedest to get his film made his way. Huston, one of Old Hollywood’s greatest directors himself, is at turns charming and cutting as the Welles stand-in Hannaford, who may or may not be bisexual, but is definitely misogynistic, alcoholic, and at the end of his rope. Welles acolyte Peter Bogdanovich plays Hannaford acolyte Brooks Otterlake, and does his mentor proud in the part. Susan Strasberg gives what I think is her best performance ever as acidic critic Julie Rich, patterned on Welles’ bete noir Pauline Kael. Edmond O’Brien , ill and already suffering the devastating memory loss of the Alzheimer’s disease that killed him, delivers a great performance as Hannaford actor Pat Mullins in his final role. Paul Stewart , CITIZEN KANE’s butler, plays another of Hannaford’s cronies, Matt Costello. My God, you could have a field day just spotting Familiar Faces in roles large and small: Stephane Audran, John Carroll , Claude Chabrol, Norman Foster , Curtis Harrington, Dennis Hopper , Henry Jaglom, George Jessel, Rich Little, Paul Mazursky, Mercedes McCambridge,  Cameron Mitchell , Lilli Palmer, Stafford Repp, Angelo Rossitto , Benny Rubin , Gregory Sierra, Dan Tobin, and so many more.

Hannaford’s film within the film stars Welles’ mistress Oja Kador (who also gets a  co-screenwriting credit) and actor Bob Ransom in the pivotal part of John Dale. This is where Welles truly shines, making it a comment on the pretentiousness of New Wave Cinema by having it look in some scenes (to my eyes, anyway) like some kind of AIP hippie or Crown-International sexploitation flick. I’m sure Welles was familiar with the low-budget work of people like Roger Corman and Richard Rush , and in one shot taken in a moving car I noticed a drive-in advertising a double feature of I EAT YOUR SKIN and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. Principle cinematographer Gary Graver (who also appears as the documentarian) toiled for years in exploitation cinema, particularly with Al Adamson. Graver (who directed porn in his spare time, and actually managed to get Welles to edit one of his Triple-X efforts!) worked side by side with Welles, and his work here is nothing short of brilliant.

Hardcore film buffs will be totally blown away by THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, Orson Welles’ last movie. It’s a heady experience, and I thought it well worth the wait. It may not be The Great Man’s best, but as a lifelong movie lover I thoroughly enjoyed it. Kudos to all involved in bringing this historic piece of art to life. The question I must ask myself now, as I do with all films, is would I watch it again?

The answer: OH HELL YEAH!!

 

Get Your Motor Runnin’ with THE WILD ANGELS (AIP 1966)

Roger Corman  kicked off the outlaw biker film genre with THE WILD ANGELS, setting the template for all biker flicks to come. Sure, there had been motorcycle movies before: Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONE and the low-budget MOTORCYCLE GANG spring to mind. But THE WILD ANGELS busted open box offices on the Grindhouse and Drive-In circuits, and soon an army of outlaw bikers roared into a theater near you! There was BORN LOSERS , DEVIL’S ANGELS, THE GLORY STOMPERS , REBEL ROUSERS, ANGELS FROM HELL, and dozens more straight into the mid-70’s, when the cycle cycle revved its last rev. But Corman’s saga of the freewheeling Angels  was there first; as always, Rapid Roger was the leader of the pack.

Our movie begins with the classic fuzz-tone guitar sound of Davie Allen, as Angels president Heavenly Blues (Peter Fonda ) rolls down the road to pick up club member Loser (Bruce Dern ). The two then gather up the club and ride to the desert town of Mecca, where a Mexican gang have Loser’s stolen chopper. A fight breaks out, the ‘man’ comes, and the Angels take off, with Loser stealing a cop’s bike to join them. He’s shot in the back while riding away, and the cops take him to the hospital under armed guard. Loser’s ‘old lady’ Gaysh (Diane Ladd ) is worried, but Blues has a plan to “bust him out”, using his girl Mike (Nancy Sinatra) as a decoy. The club brings Loser home, but he soon dies, right after toking his last jay. The club then takes his body to his hometown for an Angles style send-off, a wild Bacchanalia of desecration, degradation, destruction, and decadence….

That’s about all the plot there is, a loose frame to hang some scenes of sex, drugs, violence, and the Angels cruising down the highways. Biker flicks were never meant to be plot-heavy; they serve to show the nihilistic viewpoint of an alienated part of our culture, who reject (and are rejected by) conventional society and form their own “family” units. It’s a theme as old as mankind itself, and Fonda sums it up best:

Right up there with his dad’s speech in THE GRAPES OF WRATH! Notice none of the actors are wearing any “official” Hell’s Angels colors, patches, or rockers. That’s because the real club (some of whose Venice chapter appear in the film) don’t allow it… Bruce Dern alleges he copped a beating for doing so, despite the fact his character was already dead!

 

Besides those mentioned, the cast features Buck Taylor , Norman Alden, Michael J. Pollard, Lou Procopio, and Marc Cavell as club members, along with Familiar Faces Art Baker , Kim Hamilton, Gayle Hunnicut, Frank Maxwell (as the preacher), Dick Miller (naturally!) , Barboura Morris, and veteran tough chick Joan Shawlee as Momma Monahan. Charles B. Griffith wrote the script, which Corman hated, so he gave it to his assistant Peter Bogdanovich for a complete rewrite! Bogdanovich did so without credit, also working on some second unit directing, cinematography, editing, and even playing a bit part in the final fight scene at Loser’s gravesite! THE WILD ANGLES is as much Bogdanovich’s film as it is Corman’s, and the work he did for Roger helped launch his own career as a filmmaker. Those of you who dig biker exploitation will surely dig THE WILD ANGELS. Those who don’t… well, you’re just too square, man.

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