Chicago Gets Peek At Final Film Of Orson Welles

Mike Ramsey
October 24, 2018 - 5:55 pm

Music Box Theatre

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- You think it's painful waiting for the final season of "Game of Thrones?" That's nothing compared to waiting more than 40 years for a cinema legend's last movie to be assembled.

Actor and director Orson Welles (1915-1985) started big, really big, with 1941's Citizen Kane. His next four decades were inconsistent, with Welles sometimes taking years to complete a project. In the case of The Other Side of the Wind, he didn't. 

Welles began the Hollywood character study in 1970 and shot the independent film piecemeal over the next six years. The unedited reels ended up in limbo, for a variety of financial and legal reasons. Now completed under the Netflix banner, the drama is getting a limited theatrical release, including Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 showings of a 35-millimeter print at Chicago's Music Box Theatre. 

Chicago-based author Josh Karp is familiar with the strange saga. He wrote "Orson Welles's Last Movie: The Making Of The Other Side of The Wind," and co-produced a new documentary about Welles, "They'll Love Me When I'm Dead," a companion piece to the now-completed feature.

Here are edited excerpts of an Oct. 25 telephone interview with Karp:

WBBM NEWSRADIO: Why wasn't The Other Side of the Wind completed in Welles' lifetime?

JOSH KARP: It was 'New Hollwood' in 1970, and people like Dennis Hopper are getting money to make movies, and these people who have never made movies -- very young people -- are getting money to make movies. (Welles) thinks, 'This is my chance to get back in the game.' He comes back (from Europe), and he has a very difficult time getting money, and he himself is abysmal with money. What happens is, he makes the movie for periods of time. He makes it for like six months and then he just kind of vanishes and goes off and acts in a movie for someone else to make a couple of hundred thousand dollars and then comes back with his money, and he put his own money into his movies, which is like the cardinal sin of Hollywood.

Then there was this kind of chaotic nature to the process that was inherent to how Welles made films. Things happened, like he didn't cast the lead for three years. So, he shot around him. He started filming in '70, and he didn't cast John Huston until '74. He had people who had major roles in the film leave. At one point, people in the cast -- a lot of them were his friends -- began dying.

WBBM: Now that you've actually seen The Other Side of the Wind, what are your impressions, and will it live up to peoples' expectations, considering it's Orson Welles' final film?

KARP: It was just remarkable to see the film, for one thing -- just to see it done. I had seen parts of it (previously), but you just don't know what things are when they come together. I was kind of blown away. ... I think they did a great job of putting it together. I can't imagine the task of putting it together. 

I've seen it a couple of times now. Upon the second viewing, you really appreciate it. You go, 'Wow, that is a fantastic film.' 

WBBM: How should this film be evaluated? Does it inform us at all today, or is it just a curio or a time capsule that's been opened?

KARP: It depends on who you are and how you come to it. To somebody who's a Welles freak or a cinema fanatic, it's going to be a really fascinating thing to watch because he was doing all sorts of things that people didn't do for 15 or 20 more years. It's edited very much like an MTV video almost, with quick cuts. You settle into the rhythm of it. ... If you're just a general audience person, the good thing about the movie is, it's got really, at the center of it, this timeless story, which is: a great man in decline being overtaken by his protégé and how that relationship plays out between the two of them on the darkest day of this man's life. 

WBBM: At least two portraits of Orson Welles always seem to emerge. He was either an unappreciated genius mistreated by Hollywood, or he was a self-indulgent, roguish character, with a lot of talent, who just couldn't stay focused. Which is true -- or, are they both true?

KARP: One good thing about Orson is everything is true. There's no modern equivalent to somebody like Orson Welles. There's truth to a couple of things. He had a lot of difficulty with Hollywood that was Hollywood's fault. He also had a lot of bad luck over the years. ... His failing was not so much indulgence. In fact, I don't think of him as indulgent. I don't want to make this sound all-encompassing, but he was self-destructive, and he knew it. That was the thing that I found fascinating about him.

He had enormous earning power as an actor. For a guest shot in a movie, he'd get paid $75,000 for one day of work. That's good money. He never had money! He was the most brilliant filmmaker and at the same time the absolute worst businessman. I found that really confounding, at first. I thought, 'God, how could somebody so smart do this over and over and over again, have the same problem?' Then I thought, if he was a good businessman he couldn't exist. He'd be perfect, and people aren't like that. It's what's human about him. 

(Editor's note: The Other Side of the Wind begins streaming on Netflix Nov. 2. Reviews have already appeared on Rotten Tomatoes.)