I’ll never forget a brief exchange I had with Peter Bogdanovich in 1997 at a New York City Barnes & Noble book signing for the updated This is Orson Welles (a must-own tome for anyone who claims to love films, even though Welles wasn’t always the most reliable narrator of his own history). During the preceding Q&A, Bogdanovich fielded questions about all of Welles’s notoriously unfinished projects (Don Quixote, The Deep, It’s All True and others more obscure than those), but the title of primary interest to those in attendance was The Other Side of the Wind. On this particular evening, Bogdanovich sounded rather downbeat about the chances of actually finishing the picture, which was shot piecemeal between 1970 and 1976; however, unlike most of these other projects, The Other Side of the Wind was at least in the can (even though said cans weren’t all in the same country at the time being). As long as this was the case, I figured there was a possibility of getting one last Orson Welles masterwork, especially if he had left behind detailed editing instructions as he had done with Touch of Evil.
So, when it finally came time for Bogdanovich to scribble in my copy of the book, I asked him, full of hope, "Do you think it’s possible for The Other Side of the Wind to be properly finished?"
Bogdanovich didn’t even look up. "Properly? No."
This is why I’m a little surprised, but nonetheless encouraged, to hear Bogdanovich talking up the possibility of finishing, in one manner or another, The Other Side of the Wind. As reported by Wellesnet, Bogdanovich recently announced that Showtime has at last agreed to finance the completion of the picture, which will be tricky given the inimitable editing style Welles was employing at this point in his career (check out the supplements on Criterion’s excellent F for Fake DVD to see what I mean). But if Bogdanovich is hopeful, I might as well be hopeful, too.
As for the plot of The Other Side of the Wind, it’s a reworking of a previous screenplay by Welles titled The Sacred Beasts, in which a once great Hollywood filmmaker commits himself to idleness in Spain. With The Other Side of the Wind, Welles elected to return this fictional director, Jack Hannaford, to Hollywood, where he attempts a comeback while contending with a multitude of hangers-on who circle him like vultures. The film stars John Huston as Hannaford, Bogdanovich as up-and-coming filmmaker Brooks Otterlake and Oja Kodar as "The Actress". Other familiar faces turning up in the film are Edmond O’Brien, Cameron Mitchell and Mercedes McCambridge.
But keep your fingers crossed tightly. If there’s one thing that’s always true with Orson Welles’s unifinished works, it’s that crushing disappointment lurks consistently around the corner.