Some Thoughts On Today’s Oscar Nominations Announcement

I really don’t mean to sound like your cranky old Uncle Elmo, but….

Seriously, Academy, I understand you don’t give two shits about Hollywood history. You prove that year after year with your truncated ‘In Memoriam’ segment, omitting far too many who’ve contributed to your industry. Last year, it was (among others) Don Gordon, Skip Homeier, Tobe Hooper, and Anne Jeffreys; the year before Gloria DeHaven, Madeleine LeBeau, William Schallert, Robert Vaughn… I get it. You’ve got to save time for those great “comedy” bits that Bob Hope wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot ski pole and lame musical production numbers, not to mention giving time for everyone to make their obligatory political statements. That’s why I put so much time and effort into my own yearly ‘In Memoriam’ tributes, so those you give short shrift to won’t be forgotten.

Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind”

But to completely snub Orson Welles’ last movie, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND ? I didn’t expect a film shot in the 70’s to cop a Best Picture nod, or any acting honors (though Peter Bogdanovich was more than worthy), but to ignore editor Bob Murawski’s painstaking putting together of all that mismatched footage and turning it into a cohesive film is UNFORGIVABLE! Murawski and his crew went through 96 HOURS of film in order to get a final cut, and the result was a dazzling piece of cinema that may not rank with CITIZEN KANE, but then again, what film does? A lot of hard work went into getting THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND right, and I really feel Murawski should have been rewarded for his efforts with AT LEAST a lousy nomination!

John C. Reilly & Steve Coogan in “Stan & Ollie”

While we’re on the subject of snubs, the biopic STAN & OLLIE received exactly zero, zip, nada nominations. Really? The film’s been released in New Yawk and El Lay, so it definitely qualifies for this year’s awards. John C. Reilly has picked up two Best Actor awards from the Boston and San Diego Film Critic Societies. What’s the matter, Academy, you don’t like Laurel & Hardy ? Not even enough to give a nomination for Best Makeup, or Production Design? I mean, come on!

Don’t get me wrong, I like superhero movies as much as the next guy, and was glad to see BLACK PANTHER get some recognition. And I’m happy Sam Elliott got tabbed with a Best Supporting Actor nod for A STAR IS BORN. But to totally disrespect THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (and STAN & OLLIE, which I admit I haven’t seen yet – soon, though), shows me the Academy has turned it’s back on its history. It’s not only a damn good movie, it would’ve been a real kick to see Orson get a co-nomination along with Murawski.

Maybe I really have turned into your cranky old Uncle Elmo. But I’m passionate about film, and it seems to me the Academy has dropped the ball on this one. I’m not going to boycott, it’s not my style; I’ll watch the awards ceremony faithfully, as I always do. And you best believe I’ll be rooting for Sam Elliott, ya young whippersnappers!!

I’ll be rootin’ for ya, Sam!

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!!

 

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!