Eve_h, your english sounds fine. Thanks for the head's up on the article.
Here it is, courtesy of the Sunday Times.
Orson Welles died without completing 'the greatest film never released'. Tim Carroll unravels the strange story of the legendary director's enigmatic masterpiece
Orson Welles died in the early hours of October 10, 1985, at his modest home in the Hollywood hills. The maverick director had been sitting at his typewriter preparing a production of Julius Caesar. It was typical of Welles's inventive spirit that he had decided to perform all the roles himself. But fate intervened, and he suffered a fatal heart attack.
When he died he left behind a plethora of unrealised ideas and scripts, including 300 cans of celluloid, amounting to a handful of uncompleted movies. And in the past 20 years, one of those films has become a source of fevered speculation: is it the best movie never released?
The negatives of The Other Side of the Wind have been under lock and key since 1976, embroiled in a byzantine legal wrangle that began long before Welles's death. The problem started as a question, as it often does in the film industry: who owns the rights to the movie? Welles's idiosyncratic methods of filming and financing obscured the matter, and his death confused things further. Parties at war over the rights to the film include the statuesque and darkly exotic Croatian actress Oja Kodar, his companion in the last 20 years of his life; his daughter Beatrice, from his third marriage, to an Italian aristocrat; and the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran. For the best part of three decades, the prints of Welles's unseen masterpiece have been sitting in a Paris bank vault gathering dust. Now, however, there are strong signals that the film may be released.
After years of frustration, the actor and film director Peter Bogdanovich says that an agreement has nearly been reached between the squabbling factions. "These negotiations have been going on for five years now," he told me from his Manhattan home, "but they are nearing a resolution." A large cable company has put up the $3.5m needed to finish the editing and put the film onto the big screen. It is a personal triumph for Bogdanovich. Though possibly better known today as Dr Elliot Kupferberg of The Sopranos, he has just published Who the Hell's in It? (Faber and Faber), his memoir of a lifetime in Hollywood. He was one of Welles's closest friends and collaborators, and was given a starring role in The Other Side of the Wind.
Welles made Bogdanovich promise to finish the film should anything happen to him. Bogdanovich has spent the intervening years trying to do just that. At least three titans of Tinseltown, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone and George Lucas, have rejected the option to finish it. It is reasonable to wonder: is it really a masterpiece? Or just the last, failed hurrah of a bloated, unfocused, overindulged ego?
The movie is a three-hour essay on the process of film-making, with all the strutting machismo that often accompanies it. A film within a film, it focuses on the last 24 hours in the life of a movie director, Jake Hannaford (played by John Huston), who dies on the night of his 70th-birthday party. Hannaford is an insufferable braggart who swaggers about, sycophants in his wake. Bogdanovich plays Brooks Otterlake, a one-time protégé of Hannaford, who has become more commercially successful than his old master.
In my interview with Bogdanovich, he let slip that the film starts with the ghostly voice of Hannaford explaining that he died in a car crash that night. The audience is about to see his last hours re-created through the eyes of his entourage, who had been filming his party, along with TV news footage, and sound recordings made by journalists of the event. The movie becomes a frantic collage. Viewers watch his life approach its tawdry end as fragments of his unfinished film — an arty thriller also called The Other Side of the Wind — flicker onto the screen. "It's an extraordinarily complicated exercise in film-making," says Bogdanovich.
The film contains explicit sex scenes featuring Oja Kodar. One in particular is "remarkably erotic", Bogdanovich says. "Oja is making love in a car, and a crowd of onlookers are standing outside in the pouring rain." The car shakes frantically as the lovers grapple with one another. The film, too, is about to reach its climax. It is, he says, "very, very sexual" — not familiar territory for Welles.
It was Kodar who inspired the highly charged content. "Orson called me his erotic adviser!" she laughs from her home in Zagreb. "I'm very proud of that scene. It is very erotic. Orson was a little embarrassed by the whole thing." Kodar appears nude in one pretentiously arty sequence. The movie ends with the sun rising over Hollywood.
As the sun finally set on Welles's life, his reputation lay in as much disrepair as the film he failed to finish. Many critics still insist his 1941 film Citizen Kane was his only real achievement. After that, he acquired a reputation as a profligate director who could never finish his movies on time. He made his last film with a big studio in 1958. But Welles's defenders believe The Other Side of the Wind will challenge his critics and secure his position in the Hollywood pantheon. "There is no doubt it is the work of a genius," says Stefan Droessler of the Munich Film Museum. "It is a very daring film. It is beyond doubt one of the outstanding specimens of Welles's incredibly innovative oeuvre." The New York writer Kent Jones agrees. "You're not looking at a fallen genius but a creator at least 20 years ahead of his time."
It was Kodar who came up with the title. She was with Welles, scouting for locations in Rome one day, when a gust of wind blew his cape and floppy hat up into wild flurries about him. "He suddenly turned into this gigantic, menacing bat," she says, "and many people thought that is what he was like. But he was a gentle and kind man, and I thought, ÔI wish people could see the other side of Orson Welles.' " She began working on a script called The Other Side of the Wind, which ventured to explore this contrast between the public perception and the private truth.
Welles worked on his own script. It owed its inspiration to his years in Europe, where he spent much of the 1960s, shunned by Hollywood. He settled in Madrid, finding that Spain's traditional society suited his temperament. He became intrigued by that other Midwestern icon who had adopted Spain as his spiritual home, Ernest Hemingway. Welles shared the writer's passion for bullfighting and was wryly amused by his entourage of young flunkies. He conceived the idea of a film about the relationship between a veteran bullfighter basking in past glories and a brilliant young matador who is a protégé, friend and rival. He was intrigued by the macho mythology in which a matador needs to shroud himself — not unlike that of a film director.
The critical triumph of his 1966 epic Chimes at Midnight encouraged him to try to get the bullfighting film made. Potential investors were summoned to Madrid, where he made an eloquent pitch in his velvet baritone. The idea now centred on a Hemingwayesque movie director obsessed by a brilliant young bullfighter whose life he is documenting. But the director is living his life through the matador, suffering from what Welles called emotional parasitism. "It has to do with the mystique of the he-man. This whole picture is against he-men." The central figure is exposed as a fake who gets a thrill out of the dangers and deaths of others. It would be a dark movie about dying, decadence and ruin. It would also be a radical exercise in film-making, shot on a low budget in a quick-fire documentary style.
There was a script, said Welles, but he wasn't going to show it to any of the actors. When it came to their scene he would tell them their lines and what was supposed to happen. It would be up to them to interpret their roles. He wanted lots of improvisation. "Have you done that kind of thing before?" asked a voice from the audience. "Nobody's ever done it," responded Welles. "Aren't you concerned that the end result won't have any control or any form?" asked another. Welles said he was not. He didn't raise a peseta.
At around this time, Welles, unusually, was finding some sort of equilibrium in his private life. For decades he had been famed as a misogynist, treating all three of his wives with casual disregard. The first, a Chicago socialite, accused him of mental cruelty. He cheated on his second, the screen siren Rita Hayworth, blatantly pursuing affairs with Marlene Dietrich and the Mexican beauty Dolores Del Rio. He did the same with No 3, the elegant Italian Paola Mori, Countess of Girfalco. And it was no secret that women always played minor parts in his movies.
Throughout the 1960s, however, Welles was having an on-off affair with a woman he would begin to idolise. He was approaching 50; she was in her twenties. An actress, writer and sculptor, Olga Palinkas was very funny and very smart. For once, the boot was on the other foot. They were travelling with a Croatian friend in France one day when Welles said that Palinkas was like a "gift from God" to him. Palinkas translated for her friend, and it emerged as two words that made "Kodar". "Orson said, ÔThat sounds nice — and K is a good letter to begin a name with,'" Kodar recalls. "I don't know if he was thinking of Citizen Kane." So Palinkas became Kodar. As the 1960s swung into the 70s, Welles continued his romance with Kodar and the loveless marriage with Paola. He returned to California, settling with Kodar in Hollywood.
Welles had long known of an up-and-coming director called Peter Bogdanovich, and in 1968 he invited him to drinks at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They got on well and talked of collaborating. Bogdanovich used his connections to get the older man appearances on chat shows, which Welles used to relaunch his career as a parody of himself.
About that time, another admiring young man wrote to Welles. Gary Graver was a Vietnam veteran who had had some success as a cameraman and director on exploitation B-movies. Welles was impressed by the quality of his work, produced on a shoestring. After an initial meeting, he suggested they did some filming the next day. Graver turned up with his camera but without his tripod. "Not to worry," Welles said. "We'll try tomorrow." The following day he forgot his zoom lens. "It was kind of comical," says Kodar, "and Orson was unusually patient. But Gary's a very likable guy and soon all three of us were inseparable."
Sometime afterwards, Bogdanovich was preparing to fly to Texas to make The Last Picture Show. He received a call from Welles, who said he was making his own movie, and would Bogdanovich do a bit of filming the next day?
Bogdanovich, for whom working for Welles was like "breathing pure oxygen all day", was more than willing to help. But, he lamented, he was flying out of town the next day. "All right," replied Welles. "Meet me at noon — where the planes fly over. I'll shoot you there for an hour and let you go." So the following day, Bogdanovich found himself at Los Angeles airport meeting a ragtag crew and Orson Welles. The movie was The Other Side of the Wind, a fusion of Welles's own idea and Kodar's, which the couple were paying for out of their own pockets. "My role was to be a film journalist and I was to ask Hannaford pretentious questions like, ÔDo you think the cinema is a phallus?'" Bogdanovich is a gifted mimic, and Welles asked him if he could use a Jerry Lewis accent. "He was amused by that."
Filming and editing continued, on and off, for five years, whenever Welles could pay for it. Characters came and went; the story line often changed. Welles anguished over the central character of Jake Hannaford. "Goddamit," he told Bogdanovich, "this is such a good role, I should have it." But he knew he did not have the rugged earthiness it called for. It was two years before he finally cast John Huston. His old friend thought it "an ingenious idea" but asked what the story was about. "It's about a bastard director who's full of himself, who catches people and creates and destroys them. It's about us, John. It's a film about us."
By then, thanks to one of his more bizarre assignments, Welles had mustered enough funds to do some location shooting. In 1972 he made a documentary about the Shah of Iran, which brought him into contact with Mehdi Bouscheri, the husband of the Shah's sister, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi. Impressed by Welles, Bouscheri, a principal in the Paris-based production company Les Films de l'Astrophore, agreed to invest $1m-plus in The Other Side of the Wind. Welles and his crew set off for a dusty backdrop called Carefree in the Arizona desert. He hired a ramshackle house, and two Beverly Hills chefs served gourmet meals. At the house there was a party atmosphere, while the set was in perpetual disorder. Huston found Welles, in flowing robes, demanding imperiously to be obeyed. "Why must I be questioned in this manner?" he would demand of some underling. Huston was amazed to find that he had no script, but soldiered on manfully.
Chaos turned to crisis when Welles decided the actor he had chosen to play Brooks Otterlake, the young protégé-cum-rival, was not quite right. That evening he called LA to discuss the problem with Bogdanovich, by then a hot new talent, The Last Picture Show having been hailed as the most important film since Citizen Kane. "Why don't I do it?" he asked. "My God!" said Welles. "Why didn't I think of that?" Bogdanovich was soon in Carefree. The role of the pretentious journalist went to someone else.
The lure of being part of a Welles project attracted a collection of young talent — the firebrand Dennis Hopper, the directors Paul Mazursky and Henry Jaglom, and Cameron Crowe, then a journalist struggling to become an actor, who played a journalist struggling to become an
actor. Apart from the food and wine, it was all done on a shoestring, though Kodar had the best costumes, the best make-up — and the most provocative scenes.
The coffers rapidly emptied. The chefs were sent home and the crew were reduced to eating at the local burger bar, even downing tools one day at 3pm because they had not eaten since breakfast. On another occasion, Welles said to Bogdanovich: "If anything should ever happen to me, I want you to promise that you will finish this film." Bogdanovich was taken aback. "Nothing is going to happen to you," he said. Welles replied: "I know. But if it does."
Filming dragged on intermittently until 1975. Welles was so desperate for money to complete it that he even turned up to receive a Life Achievement award from the American Film Institute. He used the event to show clips of the film and appeal for finance, but nothing came of it.
Then the project came to a grinding halt in a legal dispute over ownership. Welles and Kodar had put about $1m into the project. But of the $1m-plus that Bouscheri's company, l'Astrophore, had put in, $250,000 had been embezzled by an investor. Bouscheri agreed to make up the difference only if l'Astrophore was granted an 80% stake in the film. The row ended up in a Paris court, where the two parties were ordered to sort out the details themselves. They failed to do so for 10 years, and Welles flew back and forth between LA and Paris many times to no avail.
His death only complicated matters. He left the rights to his unseen films to Kodar (including writing and directing fees). The rest of his estate went to his third daughter, Beatrice, who became highly litigious, slapping writs on studios that tried to re-edit his films, and pursuing minor copyright infringements. Inevitably, Beatrice and Kodar were soon at loggerheads: Kodar wanted to complete the editing of The Other Side of the Wind; Beatrice insisted it should remain unseen. "It's heartbreaking for me," Kodar complained. "I have worked for years to get it on cinema screens. I know in my heart that is what Orson wanted."
But according to Bogdanovich, Beatrice is no longer blocking the film's release, and the myriad people who have spent nearly 30 years quibbling over fees and shares of profit are also on the verge of reconciliation: "The cable company is talking to everybody involved."
Welles's last role in life was not the Julius Caesar he had been working on the morning he died, but voicing a toy commercial. He would have laughed at that. And there was a twist to his passing that he would have chuckled at too: the friend who discovered his body was the actor who stumbled on the recently expired Charles Foster Kane.
"Orson did not die a bitter man," says Bogdanovich. "That wasn't his thing." And why on earth would he? To film aficionados, his achievements, including those never fully realised, far outstrip those of the Hollywood moguls with their mansions and millions. "There's never been any doubt in my mind that he's one of the greatest, if not the greatest director of all time," says Bogdanovich. "Its bullshit to say the only real success he had was Kane. The first hour of The Magnificent Ambersons is as good as anything anybody's ever made." Gary Graver says: "His genius was in trying to do things no one had done before."
Stefan Droessler agrees, but he is sceptical about plans to edit the film, believing that it should be shown as it is. One glaring problem is that, though the film's events take place over 24 hours, because it was shot over six years the characters look different from one scene to the next. Bogdanovich admits to having had doubts over whether the film should be edited or preserved as it is. But he was always reminded of his promise to his friend. Cynics question whether The Other Side of the Wind can be that good if three of the most accomplished directors want nothing to do with it. Stone thinks it is far too experimental. It is not known what the others' objections are.
Kodar has a simple explanation:. "They don't want to finish Orson's film because they don't want to give him any credit. They've spent 30 years stealing his ideas. But the difference between them and Orson is that he was an original mind and made his movies for peanuts, not millions."
It is a delicious thought to picture Spielberg, Stone and co sitting uncomfortably in the cutting room as the great master's images flicker before them. Could it be that they hear a ghostly echo of that inimitable booming voice: "It's about a bastard director who's full of himself, who catches people and creates and destroys them. It's about us, John. It's a film about us"?