In 1937, radio and Broadway wiz kid Orson Welles found himself in a raging brawl with Ernest Hemingway. Picture it: a baby-faced matador up against a particularly self-aggrandizing bull.
Welles, the future “Citizen Kane” director had come into a New York City studio to narrate a documentary about the Spanish Civil War written by future Nobel laureate Hemingway. Welles, then only 22, offered some edits to the script. Hemingway, considering his prose unassailable gold, went code red. Angry words were tossed around. Both men grabbed chairs to swing at the other inside the sound booth.
According to Josh Karp’s 2015 book, “Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind,” tempers eventually cooled and Hemingway and Welles split a bottle of whiskey. But Hemingway – the brooding 20th-century embodiment of short-fused masculinity – was stamped on the director’s imagination. Decades later, when Welles set out to cap his own turbulent career with a final comeback film, his script centered on a hard-drinking, gun-wielding, safari-suit wearing alpha male lifted right out of Hemingway’s life story.
The film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” was shot by Welles between 1970 and 1977. Reportedly featuring a daring mash-up of cinematic styles, provocative sexual content and a story line pulled from Welles’ own career and life, the film has become a Hollywood legend – but mostly because no one has really seen it.
Welles’ final project was beset by financial difficulties; after Welles death in 1985, it became subject to legal battles among his inner circle about the rights to the film. The footage eventually ended up in a Paris vault, according to Vanity Fair.
But now Welles’ lost movie is about to be released 48 years after the famed director began filming. Financially resuscitated by streaming giant Netflix, the film will be shown this weekend at the Venice Film Festival. It will be available on Netflix on Nov. 2.
On Wednesday, the first trailer for the film was released, sparking excitement in the film world over the final product of one of the industry’s true greats.
By 1970, Welles had spent decades trying – and failing – to replicate the artistic success of his debut, “Citizen Kane.” As Karp recounts, after living for years in Europe, the director returned to Hollywood, only to find himself out of step with a younger breed of edgier filmmakers. He conceived of a film about an aging director returning to Hollywood after living for years in Europe, only to find himself out of step with a younger breed of edgier filmmakers.
The whole movie would take place over the course of a single day – the last day of the director’s life.
“We’re going to shoot it without a script,” Welles once explained to a group of possible financial backers, Karp writes. “I know the whole story . ... But what I’m going to do is get the actors in every situation, tell them what has happened up to this moment ... and I believe they will find what is true and inevitable.”
Welles started shooting in spurts. Karp writes he rented out a the MGM back lot for just $200 because he had his crew pretend to be UCLA film students. The director filmed for three years before he got around to casting his main character, eventually tapping famed Hollywood director John Houston to play his macho director. By using a director whose own life also mirrored the film’s character, Welles wrapped an additional metafictional level around the project.
“It’s a film about a bastard director,” the director told Houston, Karp reports. “It’s about us, John. It’s a film about us.”
But money was a constant problem for the project. Writing this week in Deadline, Peter Bart noted a Spanish financial backer disappeared. The family of the Shah of Iran then stepped in, but when that country’s leadership were booted in the Iranian Revolution in 1979, this source of money also went dry.
Until his death, Welles struggled to piece together the financing to finish the film. After the director’s passing, the footage from “The Other Side of the Wind” became the subject of decades of legal squabbles, according to Vanity Fair. Battling for the rights were Welles’ daughter Beatrice, a European production company and Oja Kodar, the Croatian actress who was both Welles’ partner at the time of the death and who co-wrote the film’s script with the director.
All those issues, however, were settled by March 2017 when Netflix signed on to finance the postproduction.
“This feels like a place where we can help from a pure cinephile perspective,” Ian Bricke, Netflix’s director of content acquisition, told Vanity Fair last May. “This seemed like an opportunity to use our scale and our audience to get Orson Welles into 115-million-plus households.”