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The Other Side of Welles

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I have a sort of bizarre relationship with Orson Welles. It's one of those things that probably shouldn't be talked about too much, but I will just say this: In highschool I had a friend who was obsessed with James Dean, a young man who only made a handful of films and died thirty years before she was born. Post-graduation she made a trip to Indiana to visit his birthplace and his grave. And I understood.

Some times you have a connection with someone you've never met, and it's not necessarily sexual or idol worship. With Welles, his spectacular insecurity in his post-production -- the anxiety he always seemed to have when editing a movie -- is what mostly fascinates me about him. When I walked in to film school, I thought I was going to be a director! Or a producer! I was going to be on set and make things happen!

When I walked out of film school, it was with a loathing for most actors, and an appreciation of the magic that can happen to a movie in the cutting room. I guess the real reason I became an editor is because I wanted to make things happen. I wanted to make the storytelling happen. I think perhaps Welles realized that, too: that a large part of how you tell your story happens in the editing.

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I could go on and on about Welles' unfinished films, but someone has already built a pretty good list. What is apparent to me is how his list of films that were good -- but would have possibly been spectacular had the studio not stepped in on his procrastination and taken final cut away from him -- is rivaled only by the list of his films that he funded privately and never really finished. There is the primary example of his modern Don Quixote that never really finished filming due to the lead actor dying. He worked on that one in bits and pieces for thirty years (up until the day he died.) There is also The Other Side of The Wind.

If you are unfamiliar, let me sum up. It is a movie that was shot in the early seventies in bits and pieces (as a lot of Welles' films were -- basically when he had time and money between acting gigs.) It starred Welles' friend and fellow director John Huston, and a then-spry Peter Bogdanovich. Both directors were playing the roles of director characters based loosely on a composite of themselves, Welles, and -- interestingly enough -- Ernest Hemingway. Welles got an estimated 3/4 of the film edited by himself, but was interrupted by the Iranian revolution in 1979.

You see, the way you finance an independent film is through numerous contributors. (Some of you may be familiar with actors on Twitter trying to get things financed through Kickstarter, where regular folk like you can donate money to a film's budget, and get a credit or maybe a t-shirt or DVD or walk-on role.) Sometimes you take money from friends (Frank Sinatra invested $25,000 of his own money to try and get Don Quixote finished), and hopefully one day you can pay them back if the movie sells.

The problem with Welles' films and The Other Side of the Wind is, these films were never finished, the investors took portions of the unfinished films to hoarde for themselves. In this case, it was the former Shah's brother-in-law who kept all the negatives in a vault in Paris, and denied Welles access to it for the rest of his life. Welles once smuggled out a work print, from which he made extensive editing notes to give to Peter Bogdanovich. (The difference between working from a negative and working from a work print is similar to the difference between working with a high resolution photograph or working with a picture you drew in Microsoft Paint and shit on.)

But at last! At last, the point of this article. Over the past five or six years, Bogdanovich has been claiming the finished cut of The Other Side of the Wind is coming. There have been numerous problems with pacifying every investor in the project that's still alive. But this weekend, the Observer claims to have talked to a lawyer who's got it all worked out.

Kenneth Sidle, a lawyer involved in the dispute over rights to the film, said: "We are in negotiations for the picture, which would lead to the finishing and public exhibition. Hopefully within the next few weeks we will know."

Sidle, of law firm Gipson Hoffman & Pancione, represents Jacqueline Boushehri, widow of a relative of the Shah of Iran and one of the film's producers.

Few have ever seen Welles' original cut of the film. There are a couple of clips that were included on the F for Fake laserdisc and are still circulating on YouTube. From those snippets, I'm suspicious that the movie might actually be quite dated and not as revolutionary a film as everyone close to the project claims. It is a film-within-a-film, a faux documentary telling the story of a director trying to launch his last great production, with excerpts of that film playing for journalists. Supposedly it's been shot in many different styles, to try and imitate the same scene being viewed through different "lenses," different reporters. Most of what I've seen reminds me of newsreels from the 70s and 80s.

Bogdanovich has stated in the past that he's considering adding a new framing device for the film to try and incorporate the scope of its production. Interestingly enough, even Frank Marshall has been involved with this movie at some point. To say I'm curious to see the finished project is an understatement. However, I'm also sort of nervous to see one of Orson Welles' famed unfinished films brought to some sort of completion. I guess I still have a few weeks to wait and see.

If you're unfamiliar with Orson Welles' work other than perhaps Citizen Kane, I recommend you check out The Third Man, or even The Lady From Shanghai (which was hacked up by the studio to get it distributed, but I still enjoy,) or one of my most favorites, The Magnificent Ambersons. If I could think of a modern-day Orson Welles, I would probably have to compare James Cameron to him. Welles was always coming up with ideas that involved technologies not invented yet. And like Cameron, he took steps to revolutionize filmmaking in order to get those movies shot. (Most of them he didn't have to whore himself to fishsticks in order to finish!)

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Comments (7)

Scenes of The Other Side of the Wind are on the Criterion F for Fake DVD as well. I'm a weirdo, F for Fake is my favorite Welles movie and one of my favorite movies in general.

Bren:

I've heard if you like F for Fake then you'll probably like TOSOTW. I haven't seen it, but probably should.

Bex:

I love Orson, especially his radio work. The Third Man is among my favorite movies, but the radio show the Lives of Harry Lime is an excellent companion.

He had such a tragic life, in part his own fault, but mostly because Hollywood just didn't understand his genius. I have such a huge talent crush on him.

Bren:

First, I have a friend named Bex and I wondered when he got himself a blog about GirlGeeks.

Second: TALENT CRUSH! Is that what it's called? Because that's what I'm calling it from now on.

PBMonkeyKing:

From what I understand he abused Rita emotionally, a little, even if he loved her. Regardless, dying her signature hair blond and cutting it short for *The Lady From Shanghai* constitutes unforgivable abuse in my opinion.

PBMonkeyKing:

That said, I love Welles like I love Dolly, so I'm with you.

Dave G:

I have always been fascinated by Wells, oddly enough for similar reasons that I am a fan of Ed wood, both had a true passion for film, and both had a tragic fall from grace.

one of the coolest documentaries I have seen about him is "Orson Wells: one man band" which you can see here:
http://www.ubu.com/film/welles.html