November 1, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Film nerds unite! Most of us who (proudly) wear that label have known that filmmaker Orson Welles left a few unfinished projects when he died in 1985. The most famous – or infamous – of these was THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. It was to be the comeback film for Mr. Welles, who had slipped from the artistic throne with his run of TV projects, shorts, and unsuccessful features during the 1960’s. Known as a perfectionist, and as someone more dedicated to the filmmaking part more than the “finishing” part, Welles filmed scenes for the movie from 1970-1976, and then picked it back up in the early 1980’s to begin the editing process … a process he never finished.

Best known for his all-time classics CITIZEN KANE (1941) and TOUCH OF EVIL (1958), Welles left mountains of copious production notes, and almost 100 hours of footage in multiple formats, and in both color and black and white stock, on this project that, even today, might best be described as experimental. Over the past 30 years there have been numerous attempts to raise the money required to finish the film, but all fell short until this one spearheaded by Peter Bogdanovich and Beatrice Welles (Orson’s daughter).

In what we can only interpret as semi-autobiographical, what we see on screen is the making of a documentary on a legendary director’s comeback film (his poke at artsy filmmakers). Clips of the unfinished film are shown throughout, while an industry party plays out, and numerous documentary filmmakers capture the scene from various angles with their always-present cameras. Got that?  Don’t worry, it takes at least a few minutes as a viewer to get the rhythm and layers of what’s unfolding before our eyes.

John Huston (himself an industry legend with 2 Oscars and 15 nominations) plays director Jake Hannaford, who is walking the fine line between Hollywood power and has-been. It’s his 70th birthday party, and Hannaford is compared to Hemingway (a description that better fit Huston than Welles), silently endures insinuations of his closeted homosexuality, desperately seeks funding to finish his film, and skulks around his own party winding through the hangers-on and those waiting for the final curtain.

Hannaford’s artsy film within a film, at least the clips we see, feature an inordinate amount of nudity from the leading lady (played by Welles 4th wife and the film’s co-writer Oja Kodar), and some ultra-coolness from the lead actor John Dale (played by Robert Random). Part of Hannaford’s desperation (both professional and persona) stems from a James Dean-type Dale walking off the set mid-picture.

Guests at the party include Peter Bogdanovich as director Brooks Otterlake, a young director once mentored by Hannaford. It’s an example of the student becoming the teacher. Susan Strasberg (daughter of famed acting coach Lee Strasberg) plays film critic Juliet Riche, a thinly-veiled portrait of Welles nemesis Pauline Kael. Other familiar faces in the cast include: Lilli Palmer, Mercedes McCambridge (Oscar winner), Edmond O’Brien (Oscar winner), Cameron Mitchell, Paul Stewart (from CITIZEN KANE), Tonio Selwart, Geoffrey Land, Norman Foster, Dennis Hopper (2 Oscar noms), Claude Chabrol, Stafford Repp (Sgt O’Hara from “Batman” series), plus Cameron Crowe (Oscar winner), William Katt, Frank Marshall (5 Oscar noms), Rich Little, Leslie Moonves (recently fired in disgrace CBS President), and Paul Mazursky (5 Oscar noms). It’s fascinating to see so many we recognize from more than 40 years ago. Of course, it’s Huston, with his face that’s made for black and white film, who is the dominating figure (his scenes were filmed prior to his work on CHINATOWN).

It’s easily viewed as a satire on the film industry, and it’s quite a fun, messy-by-design, now retro look at a fragile industry – and the even more fragile people who make movies. Welles’ love/hate relationship with the industry takes on an art form. He shows what’s good and what’s deplorable. Is it an experimental movie commenting on the post-studio world of independent filmmaking, or is it an iconic filmmaker, glory days behind him, in the midst of self-reflection. Perhaps it’s both. In addition to Welles’ early editing efforts, Oscar winning editor Bob Murawski (THE HURT LOCKER) was brought in to finish up what can now be described as a master class in film editing. It’s a wild ride for us film nerds. Are you ready to join us?

watch the trailer:


TMI (2-18-12)

February 18, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

February: Director’s Month

ORSON WELLES (1915-1985) directed what many consider to be the greatest film ever, Citizen Kane (1941). Amazingly, it was his first feature film and he was only 26 years old. He won the Oscar for Best Screenplay, but the Best Picture went to How Green Was My Valley … and not Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon or Suspicion.  Welles is one of the few writer/directors whose work has become more appreciated over time … many of his films were box office failures. He was also a prolific actor and radio personality, and is still remembered for his Halloween prank gone bad … the radio rendition of “The War of the Worlds”, in which many listening actually thought aliens had invaded earth.  Welles was also a talented musician, painter and magician. His other must-see film is Touch of Evil (1958). He turned down the offer to be the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars (James Earl Jones accepted).  Commenting on his early career success, he said “I started at the top and worked down.”  In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Welles became the commercial spokesperson for Paul Masson wine … his “we shall sell no wine before it’s time” became the stuff of advertising legend.  Watch one of the ads:


TMI (1-19-12)

January 19, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

STAGECOACH (1939) directed by John Ford (his first with sound), is the movie that turned John Wayne into a star.
The film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture … winning for Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell) and Best Score
The box office success of Stagecoach is credited for pulling the western genre out of the B-movie rut and back into the mainstream
Orson Welles watched this film in private at least 40 times in preparation for filming Citizen Kane.  He claimed the film taught him how to direct.
First movie made in Monument Valley (and one of seven Ford classics that he filmed in the area)
John Wayne eventually appeared in 24 John Ford movies (plus 3 TV episodes), and almost 250 movies in total.  He won an Oscar for True Grit (1969).  He died in 1979.
John Ford directed approximately 140 films, including documentaries and shorts.  He won 6 Academy Awards and is often called “The Great American Director”.  He died in 1973