Was completed and released
young protégé. When he returned to California in 1969, the bullfighter became a film director, allowing Orson to expand his film into a playful critique of the industry that had invented and half-destroyed him.
Filming began in 1970, after Welles had cast his old friend John Huston as Jake Hannaford, the bullying monomaniac at the centre of the movie.
Hannaford, desperate to be taken seriously by his peers, has made a slow-moving, pompous art movie which appears in long excerpts in Welles’ film and was intended as a pastiche of Antonioni. But at a party for his 70th birthday, Hannaford’s guests mock him behind his back, while he himself pursues an actor he’s obsessed with and is pursued by a shrewish film journalist who was surely modelled on Pauline Kael, not a critic dear to Orson’s heart.
Welles shot those party scenes boldly and brilliantly, arming his guests with 8mm cameras to allow for multiple perspectives. By 1972, he claimed that “96pc” of the film was in the can, but as usual he was spoofing, and principal photography didn’t conclude until January, 1976.
By that point, unfortunately, other problems had arisen. Though his experiences as a guerilla auteur in Europe had taught him to shoot fast and make do, Orson had always been terrible with money. And while initially he’d used his and his partner Oja Kodar’s money to fund the shoot, he was eventually forced to find other backers.
The film’s co-producer, Dominique Antoine, began negotiations with an Iranian businessman, who turned out to be the Shah’s brother-in-law. A Spanish associate would be the go-between, and the Iranians agreed to front up $250,000. But as the months passed and the Spaniard kept coming back empty handed, even the financially gullible Welles began to smell a rat.
That greedy go-between is alleged to have been the producer Andrés Vicente Gómez, who has always denied making off with the Iranian dough. Whatever happened to it, Welles was left without the money to edit his film in the complex and expensive way he’d wanted. And in 1979, when the Shah of Iran was deposed, the Ayatollah’s revolutionary government claimed ownership of the only complete and pristine print. So did the French government, which would have been more inclined to return it to Orson, but instead a messy stalemate left the film — and its maker — in limbo.
I remember as a child seeing a fat man dressed in black wander across the screen of our Telefunken muttering amiably about sherry. “Who is he?” I asked my dad. “Orson Welles,” he said. I sought no clarification.
In the last decade of his life, Orson became a show pony, doing TV ads and turning up on chat shows to tell tall tales about his film-making adventures. He chewed cigars and wore a Mephisto beard and seemed like a parody of the genius artist. And all the while, he tinkered away at an incomplete print of the film he hoped would eventually see the light of day.
Peter Bogdanovich, who put him up in his Beverly Hills mansion for two years and would become a kind of Saint Peter to Orson’s Jesus, later said that Welles once made him promise that, if he died, the young director would do all in his power to ensure that The Other Side of the Wind was completed and released.
Bogdanovich cannot have known how very long that would take, but must now be immensely satisfied with the large part he played in saving the film. But Welles never got to see it play, and must have worried that it would join the long list of projects he’d started and left unfinished.
Incredibly, for a man who started his directing career at 25, Orson Welles only completed 13 features. He was an arrogant, grandiose character, not always easy to deal with, but Hollywood did a terrible job of it. The brilliance with which he’d shot to fame by co-writing, directing, producing and starring in the instant masterpiece Citizen Kane was never forgotten, also never forgiven, and from the very start, Tinseltown was brimming with enemies keen to see him fail.
In 1970, when Orson was given a lifetime achievement Oscar by the Academy, John Huston took to the stage at the Oscars to accept it in his colleague’s stead. “I’ll drop this off to Orson in Spain on my way back to Ireland,” Huston said. But Welles was a couple of miles away, in Beverly Hills, hiding out but probably watching, complexed as ever about what Hollywood thought of him. It would ignore Welles pointedly until the bitter end.