Thu
Apr 16 2015 3:00pm

Orson Welles at 100: Orson Welles’s Last Movie

May 6th, 2015 will mark the 100th birthday of the late Orson Welles. To commemorate the birth of the great filmmaker, we’ll be looking back at many of his greatest cinematic accomplishments — movies like Citizen Kane, The Lady From Shanghai, The Trial, and Chimes At Midnight. First though, let’s pull a real Orson Welles move and start at the end, with his last great movie project, the ill-fated The Other Side of the Wind.

The movie was going to be Welles’s grand statement on filmmaking. It tells the story of an aging movie director, Jake Hannaford (played by a wily John Huston) who is trying to stage a comeback in a Hollywood that has basically left him behind. The film was autobiographical, of course — though Welles, being Welles, dismissed any overly autobiographical readings of the film. He labored mightily on the project for years — fighting money troubles and the indifference of the establishment. In the end, the film was left unedited. To this day, it remains virtually unseen, even by most movie fanatics.

A new book looks at this fascinating period in the life of the great director. In Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind author Josh Karp has assembled the most detailed account yet of the creation of the doomed project.

Writing a book on Welles must be a beautifully daunting task. Beautiful in the sense that Welles makes for excellent company. The Welles that Karp puts on the page is magnificent — he is by turns funny, touching, and brilliant. He’s a flawed man to be sure, but his flaws are as much a part of his legend as anything else about him. It is easy to see why this great filmmaker inspired the devotion of so many people.

But the task of writing a book on Welles must also be deeply daunting because of the unruly nature of the man and his working conditions. As any Welles fanatic knows (and I count myself among their number) there is a complicated story behind the making of just about every Welles movie. In fact, there are usually dozens of complicated and interlocking stories behind the making of any Welles movie. This isn’t the case with most filmmakers. Hitchcock was as great a director as ever lived, but the story behind the making of most of his movies is that he showed up to work and made a movie. With Welles, there are always intrigues and betrayals, twists and turns. Karp tells us that Welles would really have had it no other way. He thrived on chaos (and, indeed, many of his films take chaos as a theme) because it spurred creativity. Karp quotes the director on this very subject: “The great danger for any artist is to find himself comfortable. It’s his duty to find the point of maximum discomfort, to search it out.”

On The Other Side of the Wind, Welles pushed the discomfort as far as it could go. By 1970, when he began the film, his own position in Hollywood could be described as a strange mixture of reverence and dismissal. Everyone thought he was a genius (though some felt he was an overrated genius), and most of them just wanted him to go away. It didn’t matter that he was still a restless creative talent who was still making interesting films (like 1968’s The Immortal Story or 1965’s Chimes at Midnight). In Hollywood, he was a quirky has-been. With The Other Side of the Wind, Welles aimed for a comeback — a chance to prove that he was as important a filmmaker as ever. The film would be a meta-commentary on his career, on the current state of filmmaking, on the way old men destroy themselves. He shot on a shoestring, with friends and associates — most of whom would eventually drift away from the project. With the film, Welles was exploring his own obsessions with film, with the collapse of old men, with the inevitability of failure. People would accuse of him of being unable to finish the film because it had come to resemble his life too closely. He had pushed things too far — stylistically and thematically.

Karp’s book is an absorbing look at a cinematic giant entering his twilight. Welles was a man about whom there was no shortage of opinions, and Karp does a good job of gathering firsthand testimony from many of the people who worked with him on The Other Side of the Wind. The most intriguing, and in many ways tragic, figure in the book is Welles’s cinematographer Gary Graver. Although he was a dedicated cinephile who longed to make great films, Graver’s career never took off and he wound up working in the dregs, cranking out cheapie softcore pornos like Veronica 2030 until the end of his life. Yet in the early ‘70s, Graver was the man most responsible for keeping Orson Welles in the business of making movies. He stood by Welles for years, often without pay, often to the expense of his own family and career, enraptured by the experience and dedicated to the cause that was Orson Welles.

Karp brings the story up to date as much as he can — detailing the decades-long attempts by Welles collaborators like Graver and Peter Bogdanovich to see the film released. He also puts the blame for the film’s long exile in the wilderness squarely at the feet of Welles’s girlfriend and artistic partner Oja Kodar, who, in his telling, has thwarted several efforts to get the film finished because she wanted a larger cut of the pie. (It should be noted that Kodar is not included among the book’s interview subjects.)

The latest news on The Other Side of the Wind, however, is that it is finally finally supposed to be edited and released this year in honor of Welles’s 100th  birthday.

We’ll see. Every dedicated Welles geek has heard this kind of thing before.

As much as I am dying to see the movie, I must admit that I don’t look forward to the response it will get. An Orson Welles movie that has gone unfinished for the better part of forty years? It’ll be called a masterpiece by some and a piece of trash by the rest. In truth, it will never fully be Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind because he never finished editing the thing—and he would have been the first to say that the editing process was where his movies were really born.

Let’s let Karp have the last word on the film as it is:

[T]he film is a fragment, composed of brilliance and madness; finely honed and wildly disorganized; meticulously edited but ultimately unfinished. The movie is a shot at perfection in a world where the director  can no longer control his muse and is left to stumble about in a maze composed of his own art and creativity.  It’s a world that shows Welles at his best and worst, bringing together his polar opposites—but unable or unwilling to recognize that his art and life have become one and the same.

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Jake Hinkson is the author of several books, including the novel The Big Ugly, the newly-released short story collection The Deepening Shade, and the essay collection The Blind Alley: Exploring Film Noir's Forgotten Corners.

Read all of Jake Hinkson's posts for Criminal Element.

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74 comments
1. DebP
Orson Welles is such an iconic figure. Iève read books on his earlier life and films, and would like to read about his final film.
2. Helen Johnson
One of the great filmmakers. Would love to see even part of The Other Side of the Wind. So glad I discovered your website!
Sally Schmidt
3. bigcootie
Sounds like a very interesting book. Orson Welles was one of a kind.
Francis Cardosi
4. stridr222
Welles was an awesome talent!
Interested to read about this movie.
L Peters
5. leepcat
has to be a winner with Orson Welles as the subject. thanks
Sandy Klocinski
6. SKlocinski
Orson Welles is one of the 20th century's most fascinating people, and there have been an endless number of terrific books about him. For Welles fans this is a must read.
alyce poalillo
7. alycep
Big fan of Orson Wells and would love to read this book.
peter gladue
8. peterg201
My brother James needs to read this, (after me)
Roblyn Honeysucker
10. roblyn66
One of my favorite directors. Would love this.
11. John Kershaw
i would love to read this book. I bet its very intresting
Peggy Cole
12. moondance
I'm a big fan of Orson Welles, he really had a unique vision. I hope this movie is released, I would watch it as I have watched all of Welles' films over the decades!
Deborah Wellenstein
17. dglitter
I'm such a fan of Mr. Welles-thanks for the opportunity to win this book!
Peter W. Horton Jr.
20. mosaix
"War of the Worlds" and "Rosebud" ! Yes!
Katherine Stukel
22. ckdexterhaven
Orson Welles was very interesting. Looks like a good book!
Nancy Marcho
24. nmarcho
Love Orson Welles' movies. I'm sure the book is terrific.
Russell Moore
26. russrpm
I've always been fascinated with Welles. Sometimes being the young genius is a curse as you get older.
Patricia Hilke
27. pchilke
I remember his famous broadcast about aliens.
daniel thornton
28. greatrase3
I have never heard of the author before but, I like to read authors I dont
know about.
Chi Shannon
29. anastasiafall
Sounds intriguing :) I'd love to hek it out :)
JAMES LYNAM
32. jpl123456
Orson Wells was one of a kind.
I want this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Susan Wilkinson
33. srw59
I have to admit I've never read much on Mr. Welles, but I do like the story I've heard about when War of the Worlds came out. It would be a nice to receive the book and start learning.
Erik Klemm
34. esklemm
I am a big fan of his films. This looks to be a very interesting read.
James Devlin
35. devlinjp
I would love to read this, while I'm waiting for Simon Callow to finish his multi-volume biography of the actor/director. As far as Hollywood was concerned, Welles, alas, was his own worst enemy...
37. Holmes
Wells was one of 3 greatest filmakers of all time and kids today don't even know who he was!
L
39. LStirling
Wow, just reading the article about the book was enthralling. I loved the last quote by Karp. It was intense, and complex, and thought-provoking.....just like Orson Welles. I think this will be an amazing book to read.
Joanne Mielczarski
40. jtmswim
I would love to read this book about orson Welles
Linda Kujaca
43. wanda72
I've always loved Orson Welles. I'd love to read this.
Beverly Henry
44. bevhen
I love books and read in my spare time
Ronald L Weston
45. mandrake
This sounds like a solid read. I'm a Welles fan from wayback.
Linda Peters
46. linnett
would love to read this, takes you back in time
Sally Winkleblech
49. sallyw
A book about a complicated genius, would love to read this. We may never get to see the last film he directed.
Anna Mills
50. Anna Mills
Yes, this would be the one that I really, really need!!
Michael Carter
51. rubydog
Sounds interesting.
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks!
52. Barbara01
Sounds great. Would love to win.
Barbara Miller
53. barbara0101
would love to win. using correct name this time.
Andra Dalton
54. andra77
Sounds so intriguing!!! Can't wait to read!!! Thanks for the opportunity to win & good luck to all who enter!!!:)
Mary Vernau
55. maryvernau
Would love a chance to win this book on Orson Welles, one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived.
Daniel Hill
59. moonspace
Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch
Donna Jacoby
60. Donna Jacoby
This sounds like an interesting book. Thank you for the giveaway!
Melissa Shirley
61. ms0154
I would love to read this book. It looks like an insteresting one.
62. SexyBrat
I would love to win this. My son wants to make a movie, and this will give him a little insight as to what that entails. :)
Heather Cowley
65. choochoo
I love insider info like this! Count me in.
66. versatileer
I love Orson Welles and would love to read this. Thank you for giving all of us the chance.
Belinda Shaw
69. Bshaw1277
Orson Welles is a true legend.

Bshaw75015@aol.com
Andrew Beck
72. queerbec
I enjoy books about Hollywood history, particularly about the nuts and bolts of making film and how they are changed, altered, shelved ordestroyed by the studios ofthe directors themselves. Welles was quite an interesting character who unfortunately became better known for "We sell no wine before its time" rather than his film history during his latter days.
James Devlin
74. devlinjp
I won the book, and I have to say it's fascinating. Karp makes it possible for the reader to follow an almost impossible tangle of personalities and their involvement in this project. Funny and sad...
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