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The Other Side of the Wind: The Most Incredible, Brand New, 42-Year-Old Movie of 2018

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Orson Welles finished production on his final masterpiece in 1976, and audiences are only getting to see it now.

When critics list the best films of 2018, there’s an excellent chance that one of their choices will be 42-years-old. That’s because The Other Side of the Wind, the final film from Citizen Kane director Orson Welles, was shot in 1976 and – through a series of unpredictable circumstances – hasn’t been finished until now.

Orson Welles began his career as an actor and theater director, starring in the iconic superhero radio show The Shadow, and fooling the world into thinking aliens were real with his notorious War of the Worlds broadcast. When he came to Hollywood, with an unprecedented contract that gave him final cut on his own motion pictures (which was unheard of in the 1940s, and still almost never happens), his first motion picture was Citizen Kane, a groundbreaking drama about a mysterious newspaper tycoon which would eventually be hailed as the greatest motion picture ever filmed.

But it was all downhill from there. Actual newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst tried to bury Citizen Kane, believing (and not without cause) that the film was a veiled, unflattering unauthorized biography of his own life. Citizen Kane was released but without Hearst’s newspapers it was hard to advertise, and despite good reviews the film was not a box office hit (although it did win one Academy Award, for Best Writing – Original Screenplay). And from that point on, Hollywood never trusted Orson Welles again.

His next picture, The Magnificent Ambersons, was dramatically re-edited and re-shot without his approval or his input, and that became the standard for Welles’ career. If the studios hired him at all, they didn’t trust him with the final cut, and edited his movies without him, like the 1958 noir classic Touch of Evil.

To put Welles’s situation in modern terms, think about the behind the scenes controversy of Justice League, in which Zack Snyder left the production after principle photography and his film was re-edited and re-shot without him. Now, imagine if just prior to that, Snyder had directed a film that was almost universally declared the best motion picture ever made, and that he publicly said he felt betrayed and hated what they did to his film. And that he never got to make a movie on his own terms ever again.

In other words, Welles got royally screwed over by the system. He spent decades trying to finance his own movies, with occasional success, but by the end of his life he had many unfinished projects.

The Other Side of the Wind Shot Missing

But one was nearly finished: The Other Side of the Wind, which was almost completely filmed and ready to be edited… until tragedy struck (again). As detailed in the new documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, also available on Netflix this week, Welles fought to complete what would become his final film, but financial troubles plagued him, and believe it or not The Other Side of the Wind eventually became property of the government of Iran, since one of the investors was the brother-in-law of the recently overthrown Shah.

Welles died in 1985, at the age of 70, with The Other Side of the Wind still incomplete, with only a few elements missing. It could be finished, but for reasons too innumerable to mention in a modestly-sized article, it wasn’t finally completed until this year. 42 years after it was shot.

So to go back to our “Snyder Cut” metaphor, let’s put it this way: imagine if Zack Snyder finished shooting all but a couple shots of Justice League, and instead of finishing it for him and reshooting and re-editing it, the movie wasn’t finished for 42 years.

Now, imagine you finally got to see it. That’s the thrill that classic movie lovers are experiencing right now. Thank goodness The Other Side of the Wind is worth the wait.

The Other Side of the Wind

The Other Side of the Wind stars John Huston (the director of The Maltese Falcon, who also co-starred in Chinatown) as Jake Hannaford, a manipulative director whose latest film is incomplete, and may not be finished if the investors don’t come through and his lead actor doesn’t return to the set.

The film mostly takes place at Hannaford’s estate, at a massive party filled with critics, groupies, and filmmakers who grew up idolizing him. One of these directors is played by real-life director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), who is an actual disciple of Welles. As the evening goes on, Hannaford’s life and film progressively fall apart as footage from his latest opus, an incredibly gorgeous and erotic arthouse film, plays and reveals either a lot, or frustratingly little, about the filmmaker’s mind.

Welles was two kinds of directors. In his early films his storytelling was extremely calculated, but his later movies were edited so wildly that they were practically jazz. (This was, arguably, the result of his increasingly fast, cheap, and unusual production schedules.) The Other Side of the Wind cuts between the two styles, so it seems as though filmmaking is easier to control than reality. Hannaford’s life is chaos. His art is confident, even if it’s kind of impenetrable.

Only time will tell how The Other Side of the Wind really holds up, because those of us who have been wanting to see it for decades – or, for the younger cinephiles out there, our whole lives – will probably need some time to process the experience. Watching this movie is like finding out dragons are real. It’s amazing but it takes some time to adjust to the world as it is now, with a brand new Orson Welles movie in it, and one that seemingly unlocks a plethora of insights about the filmmaker and his troubled, fascinating, legendary career.

But The Other Side of the Wind is finally here, and you can finally see it, and you should take the opportunity to do so. Because 42 years from now maybe they’ll finally release that Snyder Cut (I doubt it, but who knows). And if that happens you’ll want to make sure that future generations remember just how enormous a development that is, and that they shouldn’t miss out.

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