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Could Orson Welles’ Last Movie Finally See the Light of Day?

Could Orson Welles' Last Movie Finally See the Light of Day?

In a promising development which may finally bring an end to a decades-long battle, the New York Times reports that plans are once again underway to complete “The Other Side of the Wind,” the last film Orson Welles attempted to make before his death. The convoluted saga, which is daunting even in Wiki form, fills pages in Welles’ numerous biographies and is the subject of Josh Karp’s forthcoming “Orson Welles’ Last Movie,” which like “Wind” itself is due out on 2015. 

Although clips of “The Other Side of the Wind,” which exists as a handful of completed scenes and a 45-minute workprint, have circulated on YouTube for years, they’ve all been taken down, some due to a copyright claim by “Olpal, Inc.,” whose only credit is the 1989 William Friedkin thriller “Jade.” But the Times describes the film and the circumstances of its making:

They filmed in color and black and white and in 35 millimeter, 16 millimeter and Super 8 formats. The young crew would sneak into a movie lot or a California drive-in, posing as university film students if anyone demanded production permits, Mr. Marshall recalled. He said he often invoked the famous Welles name to requisition props like a human skeleton or a Porsche. Welles supplied his own Oscar statuette, won for “Citizen Kane,”f or his main character to brandish on film.

The origins of the script date back to a tense encounter in 1937 between Ernest Hemingway and a young Welles.

In interviews, Welles described a whiskey-drinking Hemingway taunting him as one of those “effeminate boys of the theater.” When Welles mocked him back, Hemingway threw a chair and they scuffled — settling it with a toast that led to an on-again, off-again friendship.

The main character’s life has echoes in Hemingway’s: his father’s suicide, the day of his death, his love of Spain, his name (Jake, like the protagonist in “The Sun Also Rises”). And Welles explores the last day of the fictional director’s life before he dies in a car crash that could be an accident or a suicide.

Welles scholars have been down this road before, most recently in 2011, and are understandably skeptical: “I’ll believe it when I see it” seems to be the collective response. But the involvement of Welles’ daughter, Beatrice, who has for decades blocked the removal of the film’s uncut footage from storage under the rights accorded to her by French law, is an extremely promising sign.

Peter Bogdanovich, who appears in the film, and Frank Marshall, who since line-producing Welles’ movie has gone on to be one of Hollywood’s more powerful producers, say they have notes and the rough-cut footage as a guide to Welles’ intentions, though Bogdanovich admits replicating the “very fragmented and idiosyncratic” structure Welles envisioned for the film will be an appropriately Quixotic task. But Welles’ centenary will only come around once, and as Marshall says, “Everybody recognizes that it’s the last chance.” The projected completion date of May 6 would make the film a virtual lock for next year’s Cannes Film Festival, so if you’re a Welles fanatic you may want to book a room on the Croisette now.

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