The film has a troubled production history. Like many of Welles's personally funded films, the project was filmed and edited on-and-off for several years.
The project evolved from an idea Welles had in 1961 after the suicide of Ernest Hemingway. Welles had known Hemingway since 1937, and was inspired to write a screenplay about an ageing macho bullfight enthusiast who is fond of a young bullfighter. Nothing came of the project for a while, but work on the script resumed in Spain 1966, just after Welles had completed Chimes at Midnight. Early drafts were entitled Sacred Beasts and turned the older bullfight enthusiast into a film director. At a 1966 banquet to raise funds for the project, Welles told a group of prospective financiers:
- Our story is about a pseudo-Hemingway, a movie director. So the central figure...you can barely see through the hair on his chest; who was frightened by Hemingway at birth. He's a tough movie director who has killed three or four extras on every picture... full of charm. Everybody thinks he's great. In our story he's riding around following a bullfighter, and living through him...but he's become obsessed by this young man who has become...his own dream of himself. He's been rejected by all his old friends. He's finally been shown up to be a kind of voyeur...a fellow who lives off other people's danger and death.
When Welles moved back to the United States in the late 1960s, the script's setting changed to Hollywood, and second-unit photography started in 1969. Principal photography in 1970-1 focused on Hannaford's film-within-a-film. Welles was initially unsure who to cast as the film director and whether to play the role himself, finally settling in 1973 on his friend the actor-director John Huston. The few party scenes shot before 1973 were shot without Huston, and often contained just one side of a conversation, with Huston's side of the conversation filmed several years later and intended to be edited into the earlier footage.
Filming ground to a halt late in 1971 when the US government decided that Welles's European company was a holding company, not a production company, and retrospectively presented him with a large tax bill. Welles had to work on numerous other projects to pay off this debt, and filming could not resume until early 1973.
In 1972, Welles said that filming was "96% complete," (which seems to have been an exaggeration, since many of the film's key scenes were not shot until 1973-5 - although it was literally true that The Other Side of the Wind, the film-within-the-film, was complete by that stage) and in January 1976 the last scene of principal photography was completed.
Welles described the film's unconventional style to Peter Bogdanovich during an interview on the set:
- I'm going to use several voices to tell the story. You hear conversations taped as interviews, and you see quite different scenes going on at the same time. People are writing a book about him - different books. Documentaries...still pictures, films, tapes. All these witnesses...The movie's going to be made up of all this raw material. You can imagine how daring the cutting can be, and how much fun.
- Four of them. But most of it's got to be ad-libbed. I've worked on it for so long - years... If I were a nineteenth-century novelist, I'd have written a three-volume novel. I know everything that happened to that man. And his family - where he comes from - everything; more than I could ever try to put in a movie. His family - how they were competing with the Kennedys and the Kellys to get out of the lace-curtain-Irish department. I love this man and I hate him.
John Huston confirmed that the film was photographed in a highly unconventional style: "It's through these various cameras that the story is told. The changes from one to another - colour, black and white, still, and moving - made for a dazzling variety of effects." He added that principal photography was highly improvised, with the script only loosely being adhered to. At one point, Welles told him, "John, just read the lines or forget them and say what you please. The idea is all that matters."
In addition to the tightly edited montage of different styles for the main film, Hannaford's film-within-the-film was photographed in an entirely different style, at a much slower pace, as a pastiche of Antonioni. Welles said at the time: "There's a film with the film, which I made with my own money. It's the old man's attempt to do a kind of counterculture film, in a surrealist, dreamlike style. We see some of it in the director's projection room, some of it at a drive-in when that breaks down. It's about 50 of the whole movie. Not the kind of film I'd want to make; I've invented a style for him."
Much of the party scene was filmed on Stage 1 at Southwestern Studios in Carefree, Arizona. Welles used the living room set and furniture designed for The New Dick Van Dyke Show that remained standing when the Van Dyke show left Southwestern Studios to return to CBS in Hollywood. Southwestern Studio was demolished in 1999. Other party scenes were shot in a private mansion in the boulders of Carefree that was rented by Welles and used as his and other members of the company's residence during the shoot. A house on the same street was used in Michelangelo Antonioni's film Zabriski Point. An Arizona ranch house also is reported to have been used for filming scenes.
Part of the film was shot in Bogdanovich's own Beverly Hills house, which Welles stayed in for nearly two years, and which doubles for other parts of Hannaford's house. Other scenes were shot in Reseda (where the drive-in cinema scenes were filmed in the same location as the climax of Bogdanovich's Targets), Culver City, Connecticut, France, the Netherlands, England, Spain, Belgium, and the MGM backlot. (The latter was filmed without MGM's permission, with Welles smuggled onto the backlot in a darkened van, whilst the rest of the cast and crew pretended to be a group of film students visiting the backlot. The backlot, which was seriously dilapidated, was demolished shortly afterwards, and only one more film - That's Entertainment! (1976) - was made on it before its demolition.)
Principal photography was undermined by serious financial problems, including embezzlement by one of the investors, who fled with much of the film's budget. Barbara Leaming described the situation in her biography of Welles (based on extensive interviews with Welles):
- The first of the backers Orson managed to find in Paris was a Spanish acquaintance of his from the international film community who enthusiastically agreed to kick in $350,000, a little less than half of what Orson and Oja had already invested. Shortly thereafter an equivalent sum was pledged by a French-based Iranian group headed by Mehdi Bouscheri, the brother-in-law of the Shah...Dominique Antoine, a Frenchwoman, made the deal with Orson on behalf of the Iranians...Orson left France with the understanding that the Spanish partner would act as intermediary with the Iranians in Paris...
- But no sooner were Orson and Oja in Spain than trouble started. "We were perfectly all right as long as I was using Oja's money and mine," says Orson, "but the moment we got associates!" The Iranians appeared not to be living up to their end of the deal. Orson heard from the Spaniard who had flown in from Paris, that the Iranians had not given him the money they had promised. There were heavy rains and flooding in Spain, so Orson and Oja were basically cooped up in their hotel, where they worked on a new script together. The Spaniard returned to Paris to try again. "In a minute they're going to have it," he told Orson later. "It looks all right." In lieu of the Iranian funds, he gave them very small sums of money, which he said were part of the investment he had agreed to make. Not until afterward did Orson discover that the Iranians had indeed been giving the Spaniard the promised money, which had come from Iran in cash, and that, instead of bringing it to Spain, the sly fellow was pocketing it. Says Orson: "We just sat, month after month, while he went to Paris, received the money, and came back and told us that they wouldn't give him any money. He was very convincing to us, and very convincing with them in Paris. He kept flying back and forth extracting money from them. We didn't know them, you see. We knew him." The small sums of money he had been giving Orson as if from his own pocket actually came out of the Iranian funds. His constant reassurance to Orson that the Iranians were about to come through was calculated to keep Orson in Spain out of contact with them. On his part, Orson did not want to interfere in what he presumed were his emissary's delicate negotiations with them. It simply never occurred to him that the fellow was lying - and had never any money of his own to invest in the first place...
- Meanwhile, on account of the foul weather, Orson had decided to abandon Spain for Arizona, where John Huston and a host of other faithfuls joined him...The swindler continued his game of collecting cash from the Iranians who, having heard only from him, still did not know that anything was wrong. When they received a telex purportedly from John Huston's agent to ask for a $60,000 advance, Dominique Antoine did ask for further verification. But this did not deter the swindler, who sent her a Screen Actor's Guild form with a bogus Social Security number and signature from the States. The Iranians dispatched the $60,000, which was pocketed by the Spaniard rather than Huston, who, out of friendship for Orson, was actually working for much less. After having sent the money, Dominique Antoine had second thoughts about it. Until now she had deliberately left Orson alone because she sensed he preferred it that way. But now something told her there was a problem. "I think I have to go there," she told Bouscheri, "even if Orson isn't pleased." Since Orson had yet to receive a penny from the Iranians, their French representative was the last person he expected to see in the Arizona desert. He could not have been happy to see her. When almost instantly he asked her where the money was, she nervously told him that she had been making regular payments to the intermediary, who obviously hadn't passed them on to him, he broke down.
A July 1986 article in American Cinematographer corroborates this story, describing Dominique Antoine's arrival in Arizona on the set at Southwestern Studios late at night. This story is also corroborated by Peter Bogdanovich, who wrote in November 1997 of the production, "another producer ran back to Europe with $250,000 of Orson's money and never was heard from again (although I recently saw the person on TV accepting an Oscar for coproducing the Best Foreign Film of the year.)" In 2008, film scholars Jean-Pierre Berthomé and François Thomas identified Spanish producer Andrés Vicente Gómez (who collected a Best Foreign Picture Oscar in 1994) as the alleged embezzler, and they date his withdrawal from the project to 1974.
Gómez has since responded to these accusations in a self-published memoir on his company website:
- "Regarding the end of my relationship with Orson Welles some lies were told, although he assured me they did not come from him. Accordingly, I don't want to go into that matter. I don't deem it relevant to mention the details of our split considering that our relationship was always polite and amicable and we had wonderful moments and experiences together. However, I must make it clear that if I abandoned the project, I didn't do so for financial reasons. My agreement with Welles, written and signed by him, envisaged my work as a producer, not an investor...Certain people who were close to Welles and part of his inner circle - the same ones who are spoiling his works and making a living from them - tried to justify his difficulties by linking them to the fact that I pulled out. They have even gone so far as to say that I had pocketed some of the Iranian money which in fact never existed, beyond the funds that were spent appropriately."
In February 1975, Welles was awarded an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, and used the star-studded ceremony as an opportunity to pitch for funding to complete the film. (With a touch of irony, one of the scenes he showed his audience featured Hannaford screening a rough cut of his latest film to a studio boss, in a bid for "end money" to complete his picture.) Sure enough, one producer made what Welles later called a "wonderful offer", but Antoine turned it down on the assumption that an even better offer would arrive. No such offer came, and Welles later bitterly regretted the refusal, commenting before his death that if he'd accepted it "the picture would have been finished now and released."
Welles estimated that the editing of the film in a distinctive and experimental style would take approximately one year of full-time work (which was how long he had spent on the experimental, rapidly cut editing of his previous completed film, F for Fake - like F for Fake, the film would have averaged approximately one edit per second, and would have lasted around half an hour longer). On F for Fake, Welles had used three separate moviolas, arranged side-by-side, to simultaneously edit the film. He would perform the cuts to the negative himself, then leave an editing assistant at each moviola to complete the edit while he moved to the next moviola to begin the next edit. The Other Side of the Wind necessitated even more complicated editing, and Welles lined up five moviolas in a semi-circle around a table, with a staff of assistants to help him.
A change of management at the Iranian production company in 1975 resulted in tensions between Welles and the backers. The new management saw Welles as a liability, and refused to pay him to edit the film. The company made several attempts to reduce Welles' share of the film profits from 50% to 20%, and crucially, attempted to remove his artistic control over the film's final cut. Welles made numerous attempts to seek further financial backing to pay him to complete the editing full-time, including attempting to interest a Canadian backer, but no such funding materialised, and so Welles only edited the film piecemeal in his spare time over the next decade, between other acting assignments which the heavily indebted actor-director needed to support himself.
Read more about this topic: The Other Side Of The Wind
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