Jake Hannaford (John Huston) was a big name in Hollywood, but that was a while ago, and now he seeks to make his latest project independently, but as always in the film industry, the problem is raising the cash for it to fund his art. To that end a party has been arranged where what footage he has shot is to be shown in the hope that the attendees will be so impressed that they fork out for the rest of the production, and among those partygoers are a mixture of the New Wave of Hollywood and the old guard, both of whom can contribute to Hannaford's dreams. But then again, they can equally contribute to his nightmares: a nightmare of never getting anything finished ever again.
The Other Side of the Wind was one of the most infamous lost movies among those who kept a record of such things, an Orson Welles project that he toiled over for six years in the shooting, grabbing what footage he could here and there, then once he felt he had enough the rest of his life, on and off, was spent editing it together. The worst of it was, he still had not completed it by the point of his death and left a number of reels of footage that were held up in a financial and legal limbo with occasional promises that Welles' wish to see it assembled to his specifications was one to be fulfilled at some future date. In effect, it took around four decades for this to happen.
Welles died in 1985, so perhaps we can envisage him looking down from movie heaven and beaming that it was released in 2018 by internet streaming service Netflix, whose vast coffers were plundered to get all the tangled mess of the rights and editing sorted out. Alas, maybe Welles may not have been entirely pleased with the reaction: 1976 had been a very long time ago in cinematic terms, and once the film had been viewed it was clear that seventies experimentalism was not a genre that had lasted to any great effect. Indeed, there was a sense that we were looking at some relic of the past that you would need some deep research to make much clarity out of - self-indulgence was mentioned.
You could counter that by saying a lot of film is a self-indulgent act, even an arrogant one in that the makers assumed there was an audience for what they wanted to say, though at least half the movie seemed like a point-scoring exercise against Welles' critics, who were growing in numbers by the decade this was crafted, piecemeal; Susan Strasberg showed up as a haranguing harridan of a Pauline Kael stand-in who in the last five minutes is walloped across the face to put her in her place. Although keen to promote an avuncular persona in the interviews he gave around this time, there was always an edge to Welles, a veiled threat that we could see here, where his belief that he knew best when it came to directing was not one he was about to give up easily, and with shoals of minnows nibbling at his mighty whale carcass before he was even dead, you could understand.
But just as many professionals and buffs alike loved Welles, and were dismayed at his financial problems, never mind his artistic ones, with Peter Bogdanovich (who co-stars here) championing him as his own career went into a significant upturn (not that it lasted, but still). So where did that leave his fictional version in Huston? From the clips we saw of the film within the film, you could tell he had great reserves of talent as his then-partner Oja Kodar (credited as co-writer) wanders often nude across beautifully captured imagery, though the subject matter is not always beautiful, so much so that while it was intended as a parody of arty directors, you could tell this was the best material in the work. The rest of it, bogged down in bitterness and false bonhomie disguising professional dejection and revulsion, was a lot more difficult to enjoy, it was like watching Welles disappear up his not-inconsiderable fundament and left a very bad impression. Otherwise, play spot the celebrity and ponder what he could have done with a real budget and real support. Maybe he had every right to be angry. Music by Michel LeGrand.