Shoot 'Em Dead: Orson Welles & The Other Side of the Wind
"Who knows? Maybe you can stare too hard at something, huh? Drain out the virtue. Suck out the living juice. You shoot the great places and the pretty people. All those girls and boys. Shoot 'em dead." --Jake Hannaford
You are currently reading the first book-length study of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind. When it premiered on November 2, 2018, 33 years had passed since Welles’ death, and it had been 77 years since the release of his debut film.
Awestruck after experiencing the first new Welles drama in 50 years, I proceeded to watch it obsessively every few days for several weeks.
I had read and seen everything available about Welles’ legendary unfinished film since discovering his work in the late 1980s. While longing to watch this lost avant-garde opus over the next three decades, I doubted and even dreaded its long-promised unveiling, since without Welles around to supervise its editing, it could not be a true Welles film.
I was never happier to be proven wrong. To the delight of even the most skeptical Welles aficionados, the finished film not only conjures Welles’ spirit more successfully than necromancy, but it’s a stunning, experimental and provocative discourse on friendship, art, masculinity, guilt and the potential of cinema itself.
The major work of Welles’ final years, The Other Side of the Wind extends the themes that run through all of his films while adding substantially to his cinematic philosophy. Understanding of his work in film must now be reconfigured with this new title in the mix.
Overwhelmingly ambitious despite its modest scope, the film is an alchemy of caustic drama, mockumentary, autoanalysis, and critique of the film medium. It is also hypnotically entertaining. Its story and structure are symbiotic; it is what it’s about - a meditation on death whose breathless style keeps (what Welles called) “the illusion of life” from fading.
The film would have likely been met with bemused disinterest if released in the 70s, but dropped into the late 2010s, it becomes a haunted message from a bygone time when filmmakers still dwelt on the nature of cinema and strove to develop it in new and inspiring directions.
The film’s restoration is also a vindication of its endlessly stymied late director, whose ghost can now rest in eternity. Spanning Citizen Kane to The Other Side of the Wind, the career of Orson Welles has at last ended where it began, in complete triumph.
Director Orson Welles with actor Robert Random (as John Dale) in the foreground.