(Netflix) Back when Netflix was trying to court critical respect by restoring old films — yeah, that didn’t last long — they helped fund the restoration of Orson Welles’ final work: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. They also co-funded a documentary about the restoration of the film, but that’s a story for another day.
If you aren’t familiar with THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, it’s a surreal depiction of a master director (a perfectly cast John Huston) trying to complete a film that everyone believes has spiraled out of his control. Yes, indulgent, but it’s Orson Welles.
I poke a lot of fun at Orson (for instance, I watch THE CRITIC clips lambasting Welles with embarrassing frequency. “They’re even better raw!”) but he was certainly a genius. A flawed genius for sure, but his best pieces were always about fucked up geniuses, including THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND which is not so nakedly about him and his legacy. It helps that his longtime paramour Oja Kodar (who appeared in the previously recommended F FOR FAKE, and also appears in WIND’s film-within-a-film, rarely wearing anything) co-wrote and greatly influenced the production. She has been quite silent about the production and restoration, so it’s hard to say how much of her vision is on the screen but, given how unflattering the bulk of the film is, I can’t help but believe she contributed quite a bit. (That’s sheer speculation on my behalf.)
Given that only 45 minutes of this two-and-a-half hour long film was actually edited by Welles, what we’re seeing is more or less a fan edit, as opposed to the restored version of TOUCH OF EVIL where Welles expert Jonathan Rosenbaum aided in restoring EVIL based on Welles’ extremely detailed notes. That said, what’s passed off as WIND -feels- like a later Welles film, often coming across as something that could come unhinged at any point in time, but manages to reel itself in. It’s a fascinating film, one that — given Netflix’s history — may never again be screened in an actual theater (which is a shame, because it sings on the big screen) but watching it on a smaller screen is just one more compromise.