Topic: Upon rewatching The Other Side of the Wind
Simultaneously an excoriation of and a love letter to everything that happens to wander into its frame, a scathingly petty indictment of the art form Welles felt had abandoned him that cannot hope to hide his unyielding fascination with its possibilities. It's no mistake that the film-within-a-film, intended as a mockery of Antonioni and his peers, is the most stunningly beautiful footage Welles ever shot—he can't help but fill even his put-downs with exuberance. First and foremost, he must give the devil his due.
This push-pull between contempt and generosity is realized most obviously in the character of Brooks Otterlake—a shockingly, transparently cruel send-up of Bogdanovich, Welles' acolyte-benefactor. Bogdanovich's portrayal of himself is an entirely egoless performance, absorbing all the snide accusations of plagiarism and coattail-riding and not only accepting them but magnifying them into a spiteful little man whose self-worth is entirely determined by his acid relationship with "daddy." And yet when the dust settles, he becomes the most humane character of the piece—a talent who will always be defined by the great man who became his friend, and knows it, and despite his resentment sticks around. Coupled with the real Bogdanovich's efforts to finally finish the film four decades later, it's almost impossibly moving.
Most nebulous and perhaps most enticing, the film is also its creator's loathing self-portrait. What I find most fascinating there isn't the obvious parallel between Welles' and Hannaford's disintegrating industry clout, but the way Hannaford's repressed bisexuality mirrors Welles' own probable inclinations.* The film treats this, Hannaford's ultimate secret, with reflexive disgust, but not as a vice in and of itself. As triumphantly crowed by nosy critic Juliette Rich (Welles giving the devil in the form of Pauline Kael her own due), Hannaford's consumption of his leading men is an extension of the great man's disregard for everyone around him—his chewing up and spitting out of Otterlake and Billy and countless others for the sake of his films. Looking at the long swathe of exploitation in the name of art throughout Welles' career—whether it was keeping Gary Graver on as DP for no pay, living on Bogdanovich's good graces while despising him, or even inadvertently drowning Manoel Olimpio Meira for the sake of a documentary reenactment**—one gets the sense that, beyond queer self-loathing, in his latter days he'd begun to question whether any of what he'd done had been worth the human cost to himself and to others. Are movies of themselves justified? Or will a life spent in pursuit of them always lead to corruption, to vampiric use and abuse of those we hold dear—"suck out the living juice" and twist even our best impulses into something hollow and beyond redemption?
And yet even as he questions the profession he's chosen for himself, he can't help but push it past its limits. To say Welles invented found footage with this movie is tempting but in the end too simplistic—beyond a few scattered moments of self-reflexivity, it's clear that the conceit was a justification for transposing Welles' frenetic editing onto a narrative feature rather than a form he was interested in rigorously exploring. But he was inventing an entirely new cinematic language, a kaleidoscope of fragments that splinter straightforward story into a sea of broken images. Even forty years later, this mosaic feels shockingly fresh—if it had been released during Welles' lifetime, who knows how it would have driven the medium forward. Even in a middle finger extended at his friends, his industry, and himself, Welles was operating on the same ethos he had when making Citizen Kane a lifetime prior—to show the movies what they could do, what they could be, when unfettered by preconceived ideas of form or structure. His last word on the matter of film is simultaneously a repudiation and an embrace, a scowl belied by his magician's wink—as fitting an end as I could imagine.
If we can be said to grieve for those who lived and died in a time long before ours, I grieve for Welles. For the ways in which his constant struggle to create warped him. For the seeming determination of others to take his achievements and either diminish them or wrest them from his grip. And, though we'll never know the extent to which this affected him, for his inability to live his sexuality beyond veiled jokes and disgust. But I'm so grateful for all that he gave us. And even though happiness is forever beyond his grip now, I hope somehow he knows just how much we owe to him.
*see Simon Callow's biographies of Welles, among other sources
**that Hannaford discovered his leading man for The Other Side of the Wind through saving him from drowning is a most likely coincidental yet inescapably fascinating parallel
Last edited by Abbie (2020-11-07 07:54:20)