The Resurgence of Orson Welles


Most have heard of the film director Orson Welles, or at least most are familiar with his celebrated film “Citizen Kane” (1941). The film, though over seventy years old, still holds its own with contemporary audiences: viewers hang in suspense, hinged on discovering the significance of Kane’s final word, “Rosebud.”

Many critics and cinephiles would agree that Welles peaked far too early in his career with “Citizen Kane”, and the rest of his filmography pales in its long shadow. This fall from great heights was largely due to Welles’ prolonged amount of time spent abroad in Europe. When he returned to the States, Welles entered into fierce competition with younger, edgier directors emerging on the Hollywood scene. The cinema world had moved on without him, and he couldn’t quite make the leap. He went on to direct twelve more movies before his death in 1985, but he produced nothing as formidable as that first film; that is, perhaps, until now.

There is a fourteenth film (to be released, obviously, posthumously). According to an article in “Fortunemagazine, the reels upon reels of footage sat shelved in a Paris vault for nearly fifty years until, after a rough, decades-long slew of legal battles over finances and rights to the film, Netflix stepped in to fund the post-production project. “The Other Side of the Wind” (2018) premiered on August 31 of this year at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. For those of us in the States, the film will debut on November 2 both on Netflix and in select theaters across the country.

Welles started shooting for “The Other Side of the Wind” in the ‘70s. From 1972 to 1979, Welles worked alongside his third partner Oja Kodar and actor John Huston to produce a film considered largely autobiographical. The film follows a washed-up director struggling through his latest film, and it contrasts the crumbling backdrop of old Hollywood with the new-and-now philosophy of avant-garde directors. The medium itself reflects this tension between the old and the new with a juxtaposition of black-and-white reels alongside technicolor (evident in the trailer, which is available to watch on YouTube).

According to “Vanity Fair, so true is the film narrative to Welles’ own life that, during the initial planning stages of the film, Welles saw no need for a proper script. He knew the whole story—he knew it because it was his own. Welles had it in mind to simply present his actors with the premise of a scene and let the dialogue flow naturally. Unfortunately, Welles struggled with funding throughout the entirety of the shoot and never finished the film. These financial constraints damned “The Other Side of the Wind” to cinema limbo until such questions of rights and funding were, as of late, resolved.

Though the idea of a never-before-seen Welles film is intriguing, all this talk raises serious questions regarding Welles’ vision for his film. The film being unfinished, one must consider whether or not Welles would even want it released in its current state—such things can turn the man in his grave. Still, it’s reassuring to understand that those in charge of the post-production project acknowledge the film as unfinished and aren’t attempting to present a complete product (as evidenced by the “shot missing” slides which appear throughout the trailer). It’s safe to assume that the film, though akin to Frankenstein’s monster in its bits-and-pieces nature, is as true to Welles’ original vision as it can be.