Director Orson Welles’ latest movie hits theaters Friday — 33 years after he died.
“The Other Side of the Wind,” the famed filmmaker’s final picture, has been in post-production for nearly 50 years, thwarted by a lack of funding, bitter legal disputes and technological constraints.
The movie that Welles, the man behind “Citizen Kane,” believed would be a masterpiece was nearly lost to history.
But “The Other Side of the Wind” will have a limited theatrical run in New York and LA and also stream on Netflix. The film was completed thanks to decades of persistence by Peter Bogdanovich, who acted in the movie, and producer Frank Marshall (“Jurassic World,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), who was production manager on the “Wind” set.
“The thing I’m really proud of is that we didn’t shoot anything,” Marshall, 72, told The Post. “For better or for worse, it’s Orson’s work.”
Welles began shooting the movie in 1970 in LA and at a luxurious mansion in Carefree, Ariz. His concept was wild, even for an innovative genius. The film was to be what we now know as a “mockumentary,” a satire of Hollywood shot documentary-style about the birthday party of a legendary director, Jake Hannaford, played by John Huston. As the liquor flows, the film switches gears from comedy to tragedy.
“Wind” was meant to jump-start Welles’ career, which was flagging by that point. While the 1960s saw him direct favorably received films such as “The Trial” and “Chimes at Midnight,” he also began working as a commercial pitch man, appearing in spots for Eastern Air Lines, Findus Frozen Peas and Jim Beam. Welles called the gigs “the most innocent form of whoring I know.”
He thought “The Other Side of the Wind” was more ambitious than his previous films. It was filmed on several different camera types (8 mm, 16 mm, 35 mm ) and shot in both black-and-white and color, and much of the dialogue was improvised.
In an interview with Bogdanovich, conducted before filming began and featured in the 1992 book “This Is Orson Welles,” he said, “This is my best story … It’s terrifying, and it’s right for now.”
Bogdanovich played Hannaford’s overeager young protégé, Brooks Otterlake.
“Orson was always surprising, and he was so far ahead of his time,” the director and actor, now 79, told The Post. “I’ll tell you the truth: I didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like. How could I? I mean, I was in the thing, but I never saw any dailies [raw footage].”
To add to the confusion, “Wind” features a film-within-the-film — a new movie Hannaford screens at his party, also called “The Other Side of the Wind.” It’s a beautiful but raunchy film that Hannaford hopes will energize his fizzling career. “Wind” also featured Dennis Hopper, and former CBS chief Les Moonves was an extra.
Most films are shot over the course of several weeks or months. “Wind” took six years, wrapping in 1976.
Money was always a problem for Welles, and he ran out of funding multiple times over the course of production. By 1973, the sources of his financing were threefold: a Spanish producer, a French production company and, most bizarrely, the Shah of Iran’s brother-in-law, Mehdi Bushehri.
But Welles, who was known to burn through budgets, ran out of cash. His spendthrift habits angered Bushehri, and the Iranian took control of the film.
Then, in 1979, when the shah was deposed, the Ayatollah Khomeini attempted to seize the negatives, calling them the property of the previous regime. That effort failed and because the movie was partly funded by a French company, 1,000 reels were stashed away in a Paris vault.
Welles managed to smuggle a 45-minute work print out of Paris to Rome and eventually to LA, where he tinkered with it until his death in 1985, at age 70.
For decades, two women wrangled over the footage: Welles’ daughter, Beatrice, and his collaborator and lover, Oja Kodar, who also appears in “Wind.”
“I never give up — something I learned from Orson,” Bogdanovich says.
Kodar holds the rights to the smuggled work print, while Beatrice controls much of Welles’ leftover reels and unfinished projects. A French production company also holds the rights to yet more footage.
Over the years, Kodar showed what she had to notable directors, such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Clint Eastwood, hoping they could get the film made with their heavyweight name recognition. But the icons were stumped.
“They just looked at it and said, ‘We don’t know how to help you,’” said Marshall. “It was so different, and it was so Orson.”
Marshall and Bogdanovich also tried their luck with the cable network Showtime, and “three different regimes at Showtime said they would do it,” said Bogdanovich. “And yet, we couldn’t get the rights holders, or the pseudo rights holders or the fake rights holders to agree and make it possible for our plans to be done without the threat of a lawsuit.”
Finally, during the late aughts, a producer named Filip Jan Rymsza came on board, and he and Marshall eventually reached an agreement with the involved parties.
“I first became aware of ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ in May 2009,” Rymsza says in the 2018 documentary “A Final Cut For Orson.” “I realized whoever controlled the negative will also control the film.”
With the help of Netflix, they gained access to all the existing footage. Marshall, editor Gary Graver and a team of digital technicians and an old-school negative cutter were able to finish the movie using their on-set experience and Welles’ extensive notes as guide.
First, however, Marshall had to figure out if there was a film to finish.
“I didn’t know whether we had all the film until we got in [the Paris vault, where Beatrice’s footage was] and were able to digitize the negative,” Marshall said.
There was an essential final scene set at a drive-in that he didn’t recall having filmed.
“I couldn’t remember whether we shot in the drive-in. I mean, if we didn’t have the drive-in stuff, we didn’t have a movie,” he said.
Still, the team entered the Parisian vault hoping to find a long-lost cinematic treasure.
“We just didn’t know what we were getting into,” another producer, Ruth Hasty, says in the documentary. “It was like dredging up the Titanic.”
What they discovered were 85 boxes of negatives in serviceable condition and a handy inventory from the ’70s cataloguing 1,083 film elements and explaining how they should be pieced together.
“We often wonder how Orson could have finished this film,” says Rymsza in the documentary of the work’s complexity.
Digital editing programs such as Avid allowed the filmmakers to do what Welles never could: Complete “The Other Side of the Wind.”
“In a way, I think technology has caught up to the movie,” adds Graver in the documentary. “Because some of these problems were insurmountable even 10 or 15 years ago.”
Any good movie needs a score, and no music had been composed for “Wind” during Welles’ lifetime. He did, however, specify jazz.
So Marshall hired Michel Legrand, the final composer Welles’ worked with, on 1973’s “F for Fake,” to contribute tunes.
Finished at last, the film was well-received by critics at this year’s Venice and New York Film festivals.
One shocked viewer was Bogdanovich, who had never seen the movie and found it surreal to witness himself in his perky 30s.
“What happened to that actor?” he quipped. “Where’d he go?”
Marshall, who had been involved on “The Other Side of the Wind” from Day One in 1970, is thrilled his passion and drive have paid off.
“I never give up — something I learned from Orson,” he said.