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.
Some were barely in script form, others more advanced. A common thread was the difficulty Welles faced in landing adequate financing and distribution. In the final decade of his life, Welles lacked a backer — a studio or independent producer to fund his creations. He was still in demand as an actor but not as an “auteur.”
There may be some good news regarding all this for Welles fans.
The front page of the Oct. 29, 2014 edition of The New York Times includes a lengthy story headlined — Hollywood Ending Near for Welles’s Last Film — reporting that the director’s unfinished last movie, The Other Side of the Wind, may finally see the light of a theatrical release.
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 will be freed to be edited into a final release print.
The deal making this possible is complicated: it involves 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.
The general goal is to have a finished print of The Other Side of the Wind ready for a May 6 screening marking the 100 anniversary of Welles’ birth.
The movie is described as “a movie within a movie about the comeback attempt of an aging, maverick director played by John Huston.” (That’s Huston pictured above left.)
An eclectic cast includes Susan Strasberg, Paul Stewart, Cameron Mitchell, Edmund O’Brien, Mercedes McCambridge and Peter Bogdanovich (above right).
At the time The Other Side of the Wind was filmed on location in Arizona, actor-director Bogdanovich was a hot Hollywood talent on the rise (he had just completed directing and co-scripting 1971’s The Last Picture Show) and full of himself.
In the recently published My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, there is a cutting remark from Welles about Bogdanovich’s behavior at the time (Welles characterized him as a “pompous ass”).
Recalled Welles: Right after ‘The Last Picture Show’ he came out to Arizona to play to play his part in ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ — and sat for five hours at the table talking to me, with his back turned to (my cinematographer) Gary Graver, whom he knew very well. He never said hello or goodbye to him. You want to know about your friend Peter?
Ironically, it is Bogdanovich who is joining Hollywood producer Frank Marshall in assembling the final version of The Other Side of the Wind. The film is just one of the projects Welles was juggling just before he died.
Another was The Big Brass Ring, a political satire for which Welles sought Jack Nicholson in the leading role. The actor turned down the project explaining, “I really want to do it,” but only at his going price (as much as $4 million per picture at the time). Without a big star the project was doomed.
Said Welles a year before his death: I should have known better. They (the stars) all said no, and each kept me waiting weeks before each ‘no.’
And every ‘no’ hurts me more than I let on.