the other side of the wind (2018)

To live as though the art were the reality, and our lives were but shadows cast where its light shone brightest, is the dream so vividly spun in The Other Side of the Wind. The power of the creation swallowing up all other modes of living; for Welles, it is especially fitting from an artist who lived for his cinema, in its service, rather than the other way around. The all-consuming obsession, which in the case of Huston’s director character threatens to ruin him, makes all the world a bore; a parade of distractions loudly sounding off on their way out of the picture once again, leaving only the cinema at the center of it all. In this film, to be in the eye of the lens is to be one of the living, while each onscreen entity seems to crumble without its gaze. Is that why our boy-hero comes back at the film’s conclusion? Welles captures the modern dissonance, and the inner struggle at the center of his own life; when under the microscope we can’t stand the pressure, when the eyes turn their gaze elsewhere we can’t stand the deafening loneliness of it all. Even Oja Kodar’s character, who Huston references repeatedly as ‘Pocahontas’, seems to sit and wait for her next chance to live again, just like those dummies sitting on the rocks. This is a film where reality is but a pale, colorless cheap stock, after all, and the cinematic dreamscape Hannaford crafts in his film ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ is the vibrant truth by which all is measured. Powerful people provide production budgets, hooch and young women are the only solace in our cold non-celluloid world, and the mental yarn ball of criticism and analysis is a hollow exercise. Above all, Welles abandons all sense of the cinematic form, even the posturing of the nouvelle vague seems tempered in light of this reckless abandon.

Dizzying arrays of Kodar’s nude body in reflection, a flurry of cuts, a maze of light and shadow and color so dense that dialogue in the sequences would uselessly detract from the effect. As a document, it is fitting that a film so designed as a cobbling of various image and sound sources to represent a reality oversaturated by media and lights that flash so bright they blind would be just that, and 40 years in the making. Only the film within our film provides solace, some semblance of the familiar, what we came to see. Life itself is an endless wind of fighting to live another day while simultaneously detesting the world we’re living in. Welles depicts the main party sequence as an array of those within the fold of the pack coming to odds with those who’ve served their purpose, ousted from the group, while the vultures circle with their cameras waiting to pick off a good bit of flesh from the larger than life figures of Hollywood elite. What plays loudest is the speed, driving as fast as possible with a scotch in hand, trying to outrun it all. Welles is a filmmaker greatly in touch with the medium, as each frame flows in his veins, drifting from his mind to that silver screen, though he is, especially here, low on profundity. The recording devices begin to outnumber the bodies in the room, somewhere in all of the leaps between aspect ratios, film stock and characters we come to find a reality that slips through our own fingers, becoming more distant and ever-clearer all the time. The Other Side of the Wind is not a picture that makes itself known to us, but within its relentless stimuli and abrupt manner we find a rhythm of life at 100mph. This is Welles at his most reactionary, highlighting the absurdity he sees around him, no longer crafting a film that breathes new life into the world, but rather is acted upon by it. This picture, like none other he has made, besides maybe F for Fake, gives us a window into the mad lightning storm in the mind of a man who sees so much and can relate so little. Huston and Kodar brandish rifles and blast away at the dummies and the lanterns, standing all the while by cacti that look straight out of a movie lot and men running around in cowboy outfits. Where does a tinseltown that has long since lost its tinsel go from here? Why into the past, of course, into its own iconography, the American way of life in the early 1970’s, starting to look backward rather than forward in a long, loving gaze that would characterize the culture’s imagination for decades to come. Welles catches hold of his own schizophrenic nature having to be director, writer, producer, husband, lover. If Fellini caught the wave of the mental wandering of existence in these various personae, Welles gives us what the moment itself feels like in all its flash bang high octane velocity.

The characters speak quickly and volley for dominance in the conversing, it is always the role for ye of lesser status to conform to what the dominant is saying, (the dominant, conversely, is free to throw out an array of non-sequitur and curve balls to keep the lesser always off balance), while the observers and press reporters look on calling the match in one or another’s favor, praising the victor and berating the weaker with an arsenal of color commentary and sharp tongues. And what of the movie screen in Welles’ final play? Surely, all of our party gatherers treat it with a certain reverence, the last thing they revere in all the world, for it is the great river of life and from it flows all sustenance and joy, all money changes hands and all live and die by its ethereal glow. While congregating at the drive-in, the great representation of American movie and car culture, each in their own private car and private world, shielded in some small way from the prying eyes and the questions. Welles captures the need for speed, and the collision course with that great spiritual departure from this world, inevitable death. Welles final statement, kept sealed all these years, and now given the life it deserved. Our films will outlive us, and Welles knew this, so too for Hannaford who drove that car top speed toward his demise that night, to live a film unfinished, and only to be completed when he is on the other side.