Orson Welles’s OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT Finally Being Finished

Nearly thirty years after his passing, director Orson Welles’ last, unfinished film appears to be finally be on its way to audiences.

The Other Side Of The Wind, the film that the director had been working on finishing sporadically for the last several years of his life, has been the subject of a number of law suits since almost immediately after his death in 1985, with the likes of Welles’ daughter and sole heir Beatrice Welles, Welles’ longtime companion and collaborator Oja Kodar and the Italian-French production company L’Astrophore all arguing over rights to the film. While there have been attempts to bring all parties to the table to facilitate the film’s completion before, it has been indie producer Royal Road that has managed the feat. The New York Times is reporting that Royal Road has reached an agreement with all parties involved for the rights to finish the movie and have it ready for a May 6, 2015 screening to mark the 100th anniversary of Welles’ birth. Additionally, they hope to shop the film to distributors next month at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, CA.

Welles worked on the film piecemeal, shooting when he had funds procured from acting jobs and the occasional investor over the course of 1969 through 1975. The monetary woes of the film were further complicated by a European investor in the film who embezzled some $250,000 from an Iranian investment group headed by Mehdi Bouscheri, the brother-in-law of the Shah, who had put up much of the money for the production. This lead to a deterioration of the relationship between Welles and the Iranians who refused to pay Welles to edit the film and tried to reduce Welles’ share of any potential profits. It was at this point that Bouscheri had the film the Welles had already shot seized.

The director shot with a variety of film stocks ranging from both color and black and white in 35 millimeter, 16 millimeter and even Super 8 formats, ultimately leaving behind 1,083 reels of negatives. From that material, Welles had already begun to assemble an approximately 45-minute long work print. While it was part of the impounded materials in France, in 1975 the director managed to smuggle it out of Paris in a van, ultimately getting it to California. Kodar has stated that she now has possession of it at her home in Primosten, on the Adriatic coast in Croatia.

The Other Side Of The Wind’s story centered on an aging, iconoclastic filmmaker, played by Welles’ friend and fellow filmmaker John Huston, who is at odds with the Hollywood establishment while trying to finish a film that could mark a comeback for him. In some ways the film is similar to Citizen Kane in that it opens with the lead character’s death and tells the man’s story through a series of flashbacks. Here, the flashbacks take the form of video and film footage shoot by journalists visiting the set of his most recent film and by guests at his 70th birthday party. Susan Strasberg, Lilli Palmer, Dennis Hopper and Peter Bogdanovich, who basically played himself, a young up-and-coming director, round out the cast.

Although the plotline does sound very much as if Welles was drawing from his own experiences with Hollywood, the origins of the film’s lead character can be traced back to a meeting the young, not-yet-as-jaded Welles had with the writer Ernest Hemingway in 1937. Welles told the story of how a whiskey-drinking Hemingway called him one of the “effeminate boys of the theater,” to which Welles took offense. But when the filmmaker fired back with an insult of his own, Hemingway upped the ante by throwing a chair. After a brief scuffle, they shock hands and started an on-again off-again friendship that lasted until Hemingway’s death in 1961. Elements such as the main character’s love of Spain, his first name being Jake (the same as the protagonist from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises) and the fact that his father committed suicide and that the character’s own death could have been either an accident or a suicide are all elements that are rooted in Hemingway.

It was Hollywood producer Frank Marshall, who served as a line producer on The Other Side Of The Wind, and Royal Road’s Filip Jan Rymsza who started the ball rolling on this attempt to get the film finished. They approached both Welles’ daughter and Kodar, both of who were impressed with their passion for the project and the desire to have it completed to mark the director’s centenary.

Currently, the raw footage is on its way to Los Angeles where Marshall and Bogdanovich, a long-time friend and biographer of Welles, will oversee the editing process, working from Welles original notes.

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About Rich Drees 6964 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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