"Naked Thoughts and Images"
Before he died, the great film director Orson Welles (CITIZEN KANE, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and TOUCH OF EVIL) spent several years writing and directing a drama about a middle-aged film director, played by another great director, John Huston, having a raucous birthday party while screening his latest movie. Welles never finished editing the movie, but he shot all or nearly all of the footage. Now, some people have finished the movie using the great man’s extensive production notes on it.
Called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, the final movie shows the birthday celebration by the cast and crew of Director Jake Hannaford’s new movie, plus some friends, while Jake screens a rough cut of his new movie, which is also called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. This last movie by Orson Welles shows some flashes of cinematic brilliance and intellectual, psychological profundity, but it’s a jumbled, sometimes pretentious mess where the two young male and female characters of the film within a film, which has no dialogue whatsoever, are totally nude during a good portion of the footage.
Shot in color and black and white, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND begins with Director Jake Hannaford shooting a scene with several semi-nude woman. The scene over, the cast and crew, plus some friends and hangers on of Jake’s, are herded onto buses to travel to Jake’s desert home. There, they will celebrate Jake’s birthday while Jake shows them a rough cut of his new movie. Jake, who’s coming out of semi-retirement from exile in Europe, is riding by car to the house. He’s accompanied by a new friend, Brooks Otterlake, an up-and-coming director who apparently recorded and filmed a groundbreaking interview with Jake before Brooks started making his own movies. Stuffed into the car with them are several young filmmakers, who are shooting footage of Jake and his party for posterity.
During the movie’s first few scenes, a brief voiceover by Brooks explains that the morning after the party, Jake crashed his car and died. A photo of the wrecked car is pictured.
While the others are traveling to the party’s location, Jake’s longtime agent, Billy, is showing the movie to studio head Max David. It’s soon revealed that Jake and Billy are seeking funding to finish the movie and pay some past due bills associated with it. Another revelation is that the young male actor, Jake’s new “discovery” who plays the male protagonist in the new movie, has walked off the set after being humiliated repeatedly by Jake.
The new movie has no actual dialogue, just ambient sounds. After a couple introductory scenes, a young man and woman are driven at night out into the desert to an abandoned ghost town. They almost immediately take off all their clothes and wander around totally naked for much of that night and the next day.
Snatches of the movie are shown at the studio as Billy screens part of the movie for Max and the rest of it later at the party. After he watches some of the movie and questions Billy about it, Max decides he’s not interested in putting any of his studio’s money behind the movie’s completion.
Bringing the movie’s rough cut, Billy eventually arrives at the party. Conversation builds and wanes at the party during the screening, which is interrupted by a couple power outages. Jake, Brooks and other people pontificate on Jake’s career, filmmaking and life. Also, Jake’s nemesis, a female film critic who resembles Orson Welles’ actual nemesis, film critic Pauline Kael, insults Jake and his work a few times. Finally, Billy gathers the courage to tell the bad news about Max’s decision to Jake, and it’s revealed that Jake’s financial problems with the movie and his own finances have left him and his movie company on the brink of bankruptcy. More revelations about Jake and his relationships in Hollywood and with his leading actors, including his current stars, arise.
Moviegoers, especially those familiar with Orson Welles’ work behind the camera, will see snatches of Orson’s brilliant filmmaking in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. The conversation at the party, and the way the conversation is shot, is fascinating and compelling. Despite the nudity in the film within a film featuring the two young actors, the color cinematography and editing in those scenes are also impressive. It makes one wish that Orson had shot more of his movies in color, but happy that he wasn’t allowed to insert such graphic nudity into them.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND has some brilliant acting. As usual, John Huston shines as Jake Hannaford. He seldom acted in his own movies, but he always makes a startling presence in movies made by other directors. Such is the case here. Peter Bogdanovich as Jake’s young protégé and Susan Strasberg as Jake’s critical nemesis are also good in the movie. The most amazing performance, however, is by the great B-movie actor and director Norman Foster, who plays Billy. Foster began as a B-movie actor in early talkies in 1929 and soon graduated to directing B movies, including some Charlie Chan detective movies and some Mr. Moto mysteries starring Peter Lorre. The highlights of that film directing career probably were the thriller JOURNEY INTO FEAR starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles and a western called RACHEL AND THE STRANGER with Loretta Young, William Holden and Robert Mitchum. He then graduated to directing many TV series, including Disney’s Davey Crockett and Zorro series, episodes of Loretta Young’s two anthology series, the campy BATMAN series starring Adam West and Burt Ward, and THE GREEN HORNET starring Bruce Lee as Kato. MOVIEGUIDE® takes the time to insert this survey of the unsung Foster’s career here because he’s that good in this movie. Under Welles’ direction, Foster delivers a compassionate, even heartbreaking performance as the ineffectual and overlooked but kindly Billy.
That said, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is a jumbled, sometimes pretentious, mess. Like some previous movies by Welles, such as CITIZEN KANE, TOUCH OF EVIL, and CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, it offers viewers a complex character study of a larger-than-life character, in this case the character of the middle-aged film director with an imposing, magnetic, overbearing, and even destructive personality.
Welles was always fascinated by Shakespearean tragedy and actually directed and starred in three Shakespearean movies. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is similar in that it’s a tragedy about the downfall of a charismatic man of renown. As such, it shows flashes of cinematic brilliance as well as intellectual, psychological and even moral profundity. However, it’s also a bit pretentious, which leads to moments of elitist, obtuse, shallow observations and actions. For example, the ending to the film within the film is just plain weird. To give the scene an air of profundity, there’s a line of dialogue about being on “the other side of the wind,” but the line is just pretentious, obtuse and rather shallow. The scenes at the party are more effective and help round out the many sides of the movie’s main character, Jake Hannaford, who’s really an autobiographical stand-in for Orson Welles himself. The last line that John Huston, as Jake, delivers to his missing star actor, who suddenly shows up the morning after the birthday party, is rather chilling. Ultimately, however, the good parts in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND add up to a less than mesmerizing, messy whole. Too many characters wandering in and out of the party detract from the story, even though the party scenes are the movie’s most interesting, dramatic parts. Several times during the party, Jake quotes some Scripture passages. In one scene, however, he mocks the idea of “God our Father” and says, “God is a she.”
Of course, film scholars will be pouring over THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND to wax eloquently on the movie and its meaning, as well as what status the movie has in relation to the rest of Orson Welles’ work. After seeing the movie, however, it’s no secret why Orson couldn’t get the money to finish the movie. MOVIEGUIDE® also suspects that, in the end, Welles decided that the movie wasn’t worth finishing anyway. That, however, is a bit of speculation on our part.
Whatever the case, though, the decision to have the actor and actress in the movie within the movie wander totally naked around a desert ghost town for a good part of the time was an odd and rather silly, not to mention obscene, decision. Perhaps the ghost town represents Hollywood which, at the time of the 1970s when this movie was shot, was on a big decline and seemed to be in its death throes. Or, perhaps Welles is mocking the avant garde European feel of many movies in the late 1960s and early 70s. Or, maybe both these things are true. However, what possible advantage could it be to insert all this explicit nudity into so many scenes? Eventually, of course, what saved Hollywood from totally destroying itself was not obscene independent arthouse movies like THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, but popular family-friendly blockbusters like JAWS, the ROCKY movies, STAR WARS, SUPERMAN, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, E.T., BACK TO THE FUTURE, and the new renaissance of popular animated movies.
Besides excessive nudity, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND also features lots of foul language, including nearly a dozen strong expletives blaspheming the Name of God or Jesus Christ. The movie also contains some references and allusions to homosexuality, including the supposed latent homosexuality of John Huston’s character. In one strange scene that comes out of nowhere, a stuffy headmaster from a private school appears at the party and is mocked indirectly for firing a teacher for being a homosexual. Why the headmaster is at the party isn’t explained, although he’s apparently another big fan of Jake Hannaford’s work. Finally, in the silent drive out to the desert in the film within a film, the young woman has erotic intercourse with the young man. The scene is cut into a bunch of jazzy, dizzying fragments. Their driver stares ahead watching the road throughout this scene.
The obscene content in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND makes the movie unacceptable viewing for all moviegoers, but especially for media-wise moviegoers. If people are really interested in the movies Orson Welles directed, and they should be, MOVIEGUIDE® recommends watching the other movies in his oeuvre.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is the last movie Orson Welles filmed but never finished. Assembled by friends of his from extensive notes he left, the movie is a character study about a middle-aged, self-destructive film director having a raucous birthday party while screening his latest movie. Jake Hannaford’s birthday party is being held at his home out in the California desert. Conversation builds and wanes at the party during the screening, which is interrupted by two power outages. Eventually, it’s revealed that Jake is broke and unable to get any money to finish his movie.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND displays flashes of cinematic brilliance and intellectual, psychological profundity. The acting is excellent, especially the performance by B-movie actor and director Norman Foster, who plays the director’s longtime friend and agent. However, as a whole, the movie is a jumbled and sometimes pretentious mess. Also, the movie screened at the party is extremely obtuse and contains extensive, excessive, explicit nudity that also makes no sense. The nudity and foul language in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND are unacceptable.