When he died in 1985 at age 70 — more than four decades after Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons — Orson Welles as a director/screenwriter had a number of movie projects in the hopper in various states of preparation.
The fine 2014 documentary by Chuck Workman — MAGICIAN: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles — lists a few: versions of The Merchant of Venice and Don Quixote among them. (Welles’ last completed narrative film was 1968’s The Immortal Story, an adaptation of an Isak Dineson novel costarring Welles and Jeanne Moreau.)
Then there is The Other Side of the Wind, described as Welles’ unfinished final opus, which he had in fact been working on since 1970. According to his own words in the Workman documentary, there was no formal script for the project, and actors mostly improvised their lines.
The picture is described as “a movie within a movie about the comeback attempt of an aging, maverick director played by John Huston.” An eclectic cast includes Susan Strasberg, Paul Stewart, Cameron Mitchell, Edmund O’Brien, Mercedes McCambridge and Peter Bogdanovich. What was filmed was lensed largely on location in Arizona,
The front page of the Oct. 29, 2014 edition of The New York Times trumpeted a lengthy story headlined — Hollywood Ending Near for Welles’s Last Film — reporting that The Other Side of the Wind may finally see the light of a theatrical release. The idea was to have had a finished print ready for a May 6, 2015 screening marking the 100th anniversary of Welles’ birth.
After decades of legal wrangling among rights holders — including Welles’ daughter and sole heir, Beatrice, who lives in Sedona, Az. and manages the Welles estate — some 1,000 reels of negatives stored in warehouse outside Paris were to be be freed to be edited into a final release print.
The deal supposedly making this possible was complicated: involving a Los Angeles production company Royal Road Ent.; Welles daughter; his lover-collaborator Oja Kodar, who has a role in the film; and an Iranian-French production company which, in familiar Welles fashion, had clashed with him about spending and other matters, and took control of the negatives in France.
But thing didn’t work out as planned. The Other Side of the Wind completion project suddenly went silent. Then reports of essential financing falling through seeped out. Result: the completed movie did NOT emerge in 2015.
Flash forward to the present!
Deep inside the Arts section of March 15’s The New York Times, was a story headlined, Hope For Welles’s (sic) Final Opus.
What’s new? A lot, as it turns out.
According to the Times story, Netflix, which has been moving aggressively to expand its original film offerings, has committed to making ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ available to its roughly 90 million subscribers worldwide. The company’s financial backing has facilitated the moving of the eight pallets worth of shot footage reels from Paris to Los Angeles.
The project team — including Bogdanovich — has reassembled to complete the movie working from noted Welles left behind. The lesson learned? Warns project producer, Filip Jan Rymsza: stop speculating about a completion date for ‘The Other Side of the Wind.’