The Bitterness of Orson Welles Career; A Review of “The Other Side Of The Wind” and “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead”

Everything about Orson Welles is larger than life…

In his work, personal life, and persona he was an almost mythical figure inside Hollywood because of his early success. And because of that, all of his films were set to the highest standard as the boy-wonder film director, who achieved expansive and vast works of immense art…

In fact, the first work of art he produced is arguably the greatest work of fiction (or non-fiction, depending on who you ask) this world has ever seen. But “The Other Side of the Wind,” and subsequently the documentary “They’ll Love Me When I’m dead” is the opposite side of the coin. A look at the disappointment of Welles career and his resentment towards an industry that turned their back to his genius and expected a masterwork of art from everything he touched. This is the basis of “The Other Side of the Wind.”

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Personally, before seeing these two films, I had known about the terrible mistreatment of Welles throughout his career prior to his last film. Welles was not a conformist and was never going to concern himself with the commercial side of the process. This man was a true auteur in every sense of the word. Willing to try new things unlike any director in the history of films, and Hollywood resented that.

Think, if Orson got his way or say, got the Stanley Kubrick treatment, where he got full creative control. The world would not be wondering where Welles went after “Citizen Kane,” as his career was filled with more studio heads unwilling to see through their box-office lenses. He was severely restrained as a creative director and hamstrung in what he could and couldn’t do. And ultimately, his movies were cut down dramatically, destroying the vision of his films.

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“The Other Side of The Wind,” his last film, was supposed to be his swan song, as it were, and a response to an industry that largely turned their backs on him. Even the piece itself is autobiographical (or as Welles says, it is not), with the famous actor and director John Houston playing the past his prime director (Orson Welles or Jake Hannaford, as he’s called in the film), and his last attempt to create something that couldn’t be altered by anyone but Orson. However, the story of the production, as told in the documentary, shows a desperate Orson dealing with a shooting schedule that ranged from one week in Carefree, Arizona to three years of reshoots and ultimately ends up in an Iranian vault where Welles had no access to the film. It’s more-or-less a representation of his discontent with Hollywood and the fact that financiers hurt him to the point of begging. All of the money for this film had to be obtained outside the normal power structure of Hollywood and into a less savory territory.

The film itself, before this year, looked as if it was lost for good and was just another project Orson Welles had failed to reach the end of. Luckily, that was not the case, and despite a very jumbled plot structure and the mishmash of ideas thrown into the direction of the film, we got an Orson Welles film released on NETFLIX, of all places, in 2018. That, in and of itself, is incredible.

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The actual film is irrelevant to me because this is a demoralized Orson Welles trying with all his might to make a film without help from the industry. It was never going to be a successful film critically because the entire production was a giant mess. No, the important part is the story behind the production and behind the man, Orson Welles, learning of his struggle to live up to ridiculous standards that the world slapped onto him after “Citizen Kane” (1941). Watching a talent as grand as Welles trying to cope with societal and industry pressures that are so immense, that any person throughout history would fold throughout an entire career.

In fact, Welles did almost everything in his power to reverse that trend by still making the films he wanted to make. Look at his filmography: “The Trial” (1962) a Kafka adaptation that is wildly philosophical and wholly different than any other piece of high-art that I’ve ever seen. “F For Fake,” (1973) a video essay, the first of its kind, and something that’s never been reproduced again (and is an unabashed masterpiece). “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942),  a hellishly dark film that studios couldn’t understand and cut to death. His entire career is fending off doubters and detractors trying to discredit his vision.

I ask this all the time, but what does his career look like without all this? It would certainly look different and absolutely would have produced another masterpiece on the scale and magnitude level of Kane. However, that’s not to say that some of the films above aren’t at that level. “Touch of Evil,” (1958)  is without a doubt on the same level of creative and technical thought as Kane, but the perception around his post-Kane career is so tattered that his perception around the studios never recovered.

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(Production shots of the Dummy scene) Photos courtesy of IMDB

Now, me on my soapbox here, complaining about one of the most famous and well recognized human beings in the 19th century deserving more due respect might seem ridiculous. And it is to a certain degree because he did end up making so many great films, but I’ll never forgive an industry and audience that sought to destroy one of the worlds great talents and completely neglected him throughout his career. I look at this through the perspective of my Kubrick obsession, a man of similar talents, who was given a key to the empire. Welles deserved this treatment, of someone with a greater value that works on an entirely different plane than the average director. Kubrick went on to make masterpiece after masterpiece and I’m left thinking what if with Orson Welles life and career…

Verdict

Watch both the documentary and the film itself. Again, the contents of the film are only a mirror of how Welles was feeling at that time, and the documentary shows that. I did love seeing Houston in that role and Peter Bogdanovic as the dear friend that betrays him (a character archetype we often see in Welles films). Even more important is the classic Welles editing that is such an essential part of his craft and is what makes his storytelling style so riveting. The film itself is less about the story and more about Welles career and that’s my main take away.TOSOTW 3.jpg

As for the documentary, it’s well worth the watch. It’s absolutely fascinating and is a perfect companion to the screening of the film. The context needs to be seen for a full understanding of Orson Welles vision and his seeming depression at that time. Thank you to Peter and company for fishing these tapes out and releasing them to the public.

 


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