I arrived at the Michigan Theater, ready to do my job. It was early so I chose my seat carefully. Not too close or I would be swallowed up by the glowing screen. Not too far or I would strain my eyes trying to see the actors’ faces. Just right. The Goldilocks seat was situated perfectly between the two older men in front of me. I sat, no popcorn, of course. I was being professional. A few minutes later, the lights were dimming, and the screen was displaying the coming attractions. Twenty minutes after that, I was fast asleep.
The film that I had set out to see, the same one that sent me into deep slumber was The Other Side of the Wind. It is both an entirely new creation and a relic from the past. Originally written and directed by the famed Orson Welles, principal photography for the film was completed in 1976. However, the editing process became increasingly complicated as years passed. Welles passed away in 1985, project still uncompleted. Finally, in 2018, the film was completed and released by Netflix in November. Seemingly, after this long and winding journey, I should have been entranced by this film. After all, this was the Orson Welles, the same visionary who created Citizen Kane, hailed to this day for its revolutionary use of the medium of film. This was the last project, a glimpse of fading genius. What kind of film enthusiast, what kind of movie critic was I, if I could not enjoy this film? The kind that falls asleep, apparently.
Thankfully, the Michigan Theater was not my last chance to enjoy this film or yours either. You, too, can watch The Other Side of the Wind on Netflix now. It is a film that is strikingly different from most of the service’s offerings. Not to its detriment, I think. This is something altogether unusual in its form and presentation, not at all what I was expecting. The story is framed as a documentary, archiving the last day of Jake Hannaford’s life. Hannaford (John Huston) is desperate to complete his latest film, intending to comeback from years of controversy with this experimental project. The documentary incorporates scenes of his project intermittently, fully committing to the film-within-a-film-within-a-film premise. It is confusing, jumpy, and quite amusing as Welles links conversations and camera angles. He flows from character to character, scene to scene, requiring the audience to connect the cleverness and create the plot. Once in a while, he even explains things, underlining and highlighting repeatedly, until one wishes he would be less blunt again. For a sleep deprived college student, it was a little bit more whiplash than I could handle. The tone thoroughly distinguishes it from any of the more plot-driven or even character-driven films in theaters today. Welles focuses instead on creating a mood and immersing us in it as we explore the troubled life that Hannaford has created for himself.
So, perhaps, I was not the perfect audience for this film the first time around. But as someone who returned to it the next day, comfortably seated before my computer, it is a great film to revisit. The Other Side of the Wind has much hidden visual depth, even narrative depth at times, but does not quite capture the interest.