If the term "hot mess" didn't already exist, it would need to be invented to describe The Other Side of the Wind. If you don't know (and if you don't already, you probably don't care), this is the reincarnated corpse of what would have been the final film by Orson Welles. (I could make a Transformers: The Movie joke here, but I respect the man too much.) It was filmed in fits and starts during the early 1970s, a process that was chaotic and fascinating enough to warrant an entire book.
Now assembled from hundreds of hours of footage, Wind is an alternately tedious and mindblowing experience, switching back and forth between a 70th birthday party for famous film director Jake Hannaford (John Huston), newly returned from European exile, and the footage from his new movie being screened during the festivities.
There are about 75 different strands one could follow, but two stand out. One is the sheer metafictional joy of watching Huston play a thinly veiled version of Welles. These are the guys who made their debuts with The Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane in the same year, 1941, and who epitomize the push-and-pull between individual genius and the studio machine that made cinema the quintessential American art form of the 20th century. Watching them conspire to tweak the pretension of the New Generation here is a unique thrill.
The other is the way Welles uses the film-within-the-film, also titled The Other Side of the Wind, to demonstrate the possibilities inherent in movies even in the age of decadent auteurs. Starring a mostly-nude Oja Kodar (Welles' late-in-life paramour and collaborator), it's an overwrought psychosexual desert fantasy—think Jodorowsky's El Topo or Antonioni's Zabriskie Point—that bores rather than titillates until its final moments, when it builds to reveal that Old Man Orson still had a few tricks up his sleeve.
(Trigger warning: Peter Bogdanovich shows up frequently.)
The Other Side of the Wind streams on Netflix beginning Fri Nov 2, and will screen in 35mm at the Hollywood Theatre on Sat Nov 3.