Here's a movie that's alive. Made over 40 years ago, only finished recently, and finally released now is the final film of Orson Welles, the great director and ego whose career is filled with botched visions, diamonds in the ruff, and a few masterpieces as well. It's impossible to watch this film without thinking of its making. Restless, vérité, essayist, energetic, and utterly incomparable to his other great films, despite the greatness of this one, because what is left is purely raw filmmaking. Not many films have observed this rare style, which results in films of jarring power; an uncooked slab of meat whose incompletion either repulses or exhilarates. It's a film without a backbone, without a style, without any real composition, yet says so much about film as an art form, especially in its fundamentally voyeuristic incarnation. This is best seen in just looking at its approach. It's shot like a documentary, a type of film that directly intrudes on real life (as narrative cinema does, just nobody thinks about it because the re-enactment of drama they are watching is so immersive it feels real within the context of the story), and time seems to move like real life, without the dull moments. It's almost exhaustingly fast paced. This is not a detriment to the film, although it does induce some sort of fatigue, because it takes hostage those who love cinema as much as I do, as Welles clearly does. If you care, no matter if the film is too fast paced, you won't walk away. Firstly, it must not be looked at in the context of Welles's other art as much as in the context of Welles, the artist. F For Fake, his essayist masterpiece that for the longest time seemed his last, was about the implication of the director's role as both a magician and craftsman. The Other Side of the Wind isn't about the director's essence, but about that director, a human mess with an ego larger than the moon and a mind only concerned with the satisfaction of his own soul. He's the man and everybody else is his just one of his dogs. And they must serve him. The man is Jake Hannaford and he's obviously a great artist with poor taste and tortured sense of being. For nearly half or at least a quarter of the film we only catch glimpses of him, so for much of the time it's less about Hannaford and more the idea of Hannaford. But later we find a silhouette unmistakably belonging to Welles, or at least a poorly veiled, fictionalized caricature of him, with a soul misunderstood, a mind held by his fans in the company of God, and a body that should be condemned to purgatory. Yet we are told very little about this man's creative conscience. He always avoids pretentious questions with unrelated remarks like "get me a drink," only interested in other people who perhaps represent a piece of him. I find it impossible just how Welles might have written this film. It's a nonstop party with overlapping channels of sounds and voices (for instance, early on in the background we can subtly hear a partygoer ask "what's the difference between a dolly in and a zoom?", a question asked later in the film to Hannaford's disciple and loyal servant Otterlake, who replies "that only matters to another dolly."), relentless camera movement, and athletic blocking that is honestly indistinguishable from real life. Yet it's purely cinematic, inquiring into the form's nature armed with questions, only returning with more. And because so rarely can we ever expect to ever find lost films, we should commit more time to seeking them out. Because there are so many masterpieces already out there waiting to be found, and they might just contribute even more to explaining cinema, more than any modern reasoning ever could.
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