Orson Welles‘ The Other Side of the Wind has screened at the Venice Film Festival, and the critical reaction seems to be “fascinating…we get it…worth seeing…makes you feel a little woozy but so what?”
We’ve all known for months that when it finally shows, The Other Side of the Wind will have to be given a fair amount of slack. Orson has to be welcomed back to earth with a certain “wonderful to see you again, we love you no matter what” attitude. Then again you can’t be too kid-gloves. Before you sit down to review anything, you have to ask yourself the age-old question, “Am I a man or a mouse? Am I a rock, a gentle reed that bends in the wind, or a piece of dandelion fuzz?”
I spoke yesterday morning to a guy who’d recently seen it, and I could sense that he didn’t know quite how to process the jumbled entirety, much less render a short, bottom-line reaction. I promise that no matter what I think when I finally see it, I will be as respectful and obliging as possible without being too twinkle-toes.
The printed Telluride schedule has Welles’ film showing just once (Saturday at 9 am at the Palm), which I definitely can’t attend. Maybe a screening or two will be added in one of the TBA slots.
From Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman: “An eccentric, rather choppy, but highly watchable movie, and Orson Welles is quite alive in it. You can feel the intensity of his DNA in its sinister atmosphere of garish noir depravity. [But] Evoking Touch of Evil and Citizen Kane isn’t the same thing as matching their artistic power.
“So is it a good movie or a bad one? A fascinating jumble or a searingly told story? A work of art or a curio? Let’s say that it’s a little of all those things.
“The Other Side of the Wind has many characters (though a number of them just pop up to gawk into the camera and detonate a line or two). It has a loose but flowing party-into-the-dead-of-night structure, as well as a ripely cynical atmosphere of Hollywood insider dread. It also comes at you in scrappy bedazzling fragments and a variety of film stocks (35mm and 16mm, black-and-white and color), though the movie, which Welles shot in bits and pieces over a period from 1970 to 1976, isn’t a sketchy, one-man-band fever dream simply because Welles died before he could complete it.
“Judging from the evidence, a sketchy, one-man-band fever dream is what The Other Side of the Wind would have been even if he’d finished it.
“Coherent and compelling as it often is, Wind remains an arresting scrapbook of a movie that we no longer have to speculate about. What you’ll still wonder about is the movie it might have been had Welles made it from the start on the grand scale it deserved, so that you didn’t have to feel it’s a dream that, on some level, will forever be locked up in his head.”
“HE to friend who attended Tuesday’s screening: “Is it…what, a fascinating but surreal early ’70s timepiece? Is it a slipshod, free-associative whatsit without a narrative spine, or does it sorta kinda have something going on? Orson was a near-genius at times, and he obviously did his very best and worked his fingers to the bone, but be honest — is it some kind of visual dazzler, an interesting piece-of-shit or a major discovery or what? How does it play, how does it feel?”
Friend to HE: “The only thing I can compare it to would be parts of JFK, decades later, where Oliver Stone and Bob Richardson were intercutting lots of film stocks and jumping around, to keep you off-balance.
“The footage has two styles — (a) the cutty, jumpy documentary style, which follows the characters, and (b) the movie-within-the-movie, which [offers] a very composed, beautiful, landscape type of photography, sort of mocking Antonioni. But none of this is secret. The footage has been circulating for decades. The script has been published. So this radical style has been known forever.
“The editing team has cut the remaining uncut footage, doing their best to follow the two editing styles which Orson already established. The result is pretty seamless. It is very definitely of the time — it feels very early ’70s experimental. It’s hard to describe the results with a quick quip — I’d say ‘collage’ is the word that best comes to mind.”