At the time of his death in 1985 at age 70, filmmaker Orson Welles had yet to complete the film on which he was working, called The Other Side of the Wind. During the ensuing 40-plus years, the film reached legendary status among Hollywood’s inner circle, even though it was never released. A movement to recover Welles’ film stems from movie enthusiasts who believe the film to be a great work by the film-making legend responsible for Citizen Kane.
Those who hold the rights to the film, including the daughter of Welles, have been embroiled in a never-ending legal struggle which has held the movie hostage. The film, on which Welles dedicated the final 15 years of his life editing, is described as a movie inside of a movie about an aging director who refuses to play by the rules and his attempt to reenter the Hollywood scene. Starring John Huston as the director, the 1,083 negative reels of the movie have been relegated to a warehouse located in a rougher suburb of Paris. Actual filming ran from 1970 to 1976 and featured Dennis Hopper, Susan Strasberg, Peter Bogdanovich and Lilli Palmer.
It appears as though the long-standing movement to release the film has yielded results. L.A.’s Royal Road Entertainment production company announced Tuesday that a deal to buy the rights had been reached. The company hopes to have the film ready to be screened for the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Welles on May 6. The producers intend to begin promoting the distribution of The Other Side of the Wind at the Santa Monica, Calif., American Film Market, taking place next month.
The announcement is just the latest development in the film’s long history, which has included lawsuits, battling egos, a working print hidden away and a short disappearance of the film itself when the storage company holding the reels declared bankruptcy. Royal Road fought to obtain the rights to the film for five years. In order to do so, they had to get the holders of the rights to the movie, which include Oja Kodar, longstanding collaborator and companion to Welles; Beatrice Welles, his only heir and daughter; and L’Astrophore, a French-Iranian production company, to agree.
An Astrophore investor who also happened to be the shah of Iran’s brother-in-law, Mehdi Bushehri, also invested in The Other Side of the Wind. After he and Welles had a disagreement about the amount of money being spent by Welles on the movie, Bushehri assumed control of the film’s negative reels in France, leading to the storage of them in the warehouse in Paris. French law dictates that the direct descendant of Mr. Welles, in this case his daughter, Ms. Welles, had full legal control of the reels. Her refusal to allow them to be removed from the warehouse as well as the inability of the rights holders to agree on a deal for the rights, left prior prospective buyers to walk away empty-handed.
Mr. Welles managed to leave Paris with an edited work print approximately 45 minutes long, which he then shipped to California. Kodar, who now lives on the Croatian Adriatic coast in Primosten, says that she has it with her. Kodar, now 73, gave an interview via telephone in which she confirmed that she will sign the contract. She said that with the hundred-year anniversary coming up, “everybody is moving in a kind of wave.” Kodar said that she will not deem the movie to be complete until she “see[s] it on the screen.”
Frank Marshall, a line producer who worked on the film, and Bogdanovich, unsuccessfully attempted to finish the film over the course of decades. Marshall joined forces with Filip Jan Rymsza of Royal Road in 2012 in order to approach Kodar and Ms. Welles regarding the rights to the film. Ms. Welles explained that her reluctance to release the rights previously were a result of the devastation felt by her father when his work on other projects had been edited or altered by others, but while talking with Rymsza and Bogdanovich, she realized that their efforts to complete the film came directly from “their true love of art,” which led to her change of heart.
Rymsza, 36, was allowed to see the reels this month – the first time he was given the opportunity. He describes the film as in “good condition – no mold or any degradation.” Rymsza’s participation in the endeavor to release Mr. Welles’ final film, The Other Side of the Wind, is due to an unidentified private investor. The nonprofit The Americas Film Conservancy also assisted in financing the search for the reels. The next step is to get the reels to Los Angeles so that those involved in the original project can resume work.
Marshall and Bogdanovich will be in charge of editing and assembling the film. The two will draw on notes left by Mr. Welles as well as new filmmaking technology not available during original production to finish scenes. They also intend to add a musical score. Bogdanovich knows that recreating the signature style of the legendary filmmaker will be difficult. He vows that he and Marshall will do “the best we can, using the script, his notes and what he has left.”
By Jennifer Pfalz