Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Will 'The Other Side Of The Wind' Let In A Little Sex?

Orson Welles with Gary Graver and Oja Kodar on the set of "The Other Side of the Wind."
By Lars Trodson

I would guess that it was not until 1973's "F For Fake" that Orson Welles finally discovered sex. As a film director, you see.

And it seems, from the brief clips available on YouTube, that Welles was even more interested in exploring sexuality in what was to be his last feature film as director, "The Other Side Of the Wind."

So, one of the great questions that may be answered when -- hopefully when -- "The Other Side of the Wind" is finally released is how Welles would have depicted sex on the screen. It is probably the one great human theme never explored in any of his films. It could be the most interesting thing about the movie. Although I think it will be exciting to see those scenes that we know Welles edited himself or to his specifications.

The possibility that "Wind" could possibly be shown publicly was reported on Nikki Finke's "Deadline: Hollywood" site just a few days ago. The announcement was not, shall we say, overreported in the popular press. It should have been greeted as though someone had found an undiscovered poem by Edgar Allen Poe.

But back to the sex. Prior to "F For Fake", which is to say just about the entire expanse of his career as a film director, Welles's films were decidedly sexless. Even when he directed the gorgeous Rita Hayworth in "The Lady From Shanghai", Welles was excoriated for cutting off her famous flame-colored locks and he (fictionally) married her off to a guy (Everett Sloane) who was hobbled by some sort or ambulatory affliction and who looked like an ogre. Some kind of sexy, indeed!

No -- not in "The Magnificent Ambersons" or "The Stranger", "Mister Arkadin" or the memorable European Shakespearean films, "Macbeth", "Othello" or "Chimes At Midnight", is there any sex. The films may be a bit bawdy at times, but the Henry saga, or the story of the Scottish king and the one about the brutish Moor are not, let us say, Mr. Shakespeare's sexiest romps. It would be hard indeed to see Welles at the helm of "The Taming of the Shrew."

"A Touch of Evil" isn't sexy -- not even with the glorious Janet Leigh. She certainly looks sexy -- how could she not? -- but the whole setting - the sweaty, menacing, flea-bitten border town where the film takes place yanks all the sex out of it. Welles even deglamorized Marlene Dietrich for that film. (The sexiest moment is probably when Zsa Zsa Gabor appears fleetingly on the stairs in her brothel.)

And, of course, despite it's greatness, there is one thing that "Citizen Kane" is missing, and that's one scene - even one - that exudes the kind of sensuality 1940s film noir could evoke. (And, yes, I think "Kane" is film noir. Definitely. There's some debate but, Jesus, look at the way it's shot!)

It's hard to say, of course, just what Welles had in mind in some of the unfinished films of his truly lost years -- the 1960s -- which saw only two feature length films made: 1963's "The Trial" and 1966's "Chimes at Midnight." (The 57-minute "The Immortal Story" doesn't count.) His "Don Quixote" was unfinished, as was "The Deep" -- in which Welles looks absolutely foolish in his captain's cap. Looking at what brief footage is available of that film, one should have one's doubts about how sexual these films could have been.

No. Welles was downright puritanical when it came to sex. That is, until that beautiful, lovely, whimsical section in "F For Fake" when Welles has Oja Kodar walking down some street in a clinging print dress, much to the delight of the people on the sidewalks of Rome. This is a lovely sequence in which we are told that Kodar was set up as "bait" so that unseen cameras could catch the enthusiastic expressions of her admirers. With the warm Mediterranean photography and enchanting music by Michel Legrand and the figure of Kodar walking nonchalantly down the street, it's one of the sexiest moments in the entire Welles canon.

Not that there's a lot of competition.

But now comes "The Other Side Of The Wind." This is the elusive Welles film. It was elusive even when Welles was alive, primarily because, unlike "The Deep" and "Don Quixote", this one was supposed to have been finished even though it had never been distributed. (There were rumors that it was locked up in a vault in Paris.)

Judging from the clips that are available on YouTube, "Wind" may show that Welles was about to enter into a whole new era of innovation -- not only in terms of how he could depict sex, but also in that most expressive areas of Welles's expertise, film editing.

Welles is quoted in Clinton Heylin's book "Despite The System: Orson Welles Versus the Hollywood Studios", that "The Other Side Of the Wind is about the people of Hollywood who experience "life and death and sex in a secondhand way." (page 353).

Welles was, first off, examining the sexuality of his leading character, a powerful director named Jake Hannaford that was played by John Huston. Oja Kodar suggested this slant to Welles for his screenplay:

"My story is that there is a man who is still potent -- it's not that he is impotent -- but gets a real kick from the idea of sleeping with his leading man, sleeping really with the woman of his leading man. So he is not a classic homosexual, but somewhere in his mind he is possessing that man by possessing his woman. And at the same time, he is rough on open homosexuals." (from David Thomson's "Rosebud")

There is one overtly sexual scene from "Wind" available on the internet. It could be that this scene is from the "film-within-a-film" that Hannaford is making, but no matter. It is frank and explicit: Kodar has sex with a boy in the back of a car in a rainstorm. It's haunting and is as close to any scene in color to capturing the feel of film noir as any ever made. This is a raw and sexual Welles. Peter Bogdonavich, who also stars in the film, called the scene "remarkably erotic" and "very, very sexual" in an interview with the Sunday Times of London back in 2005. The writer of that piece, tim Carroll, added that frank sexuality was "not familiar territory for Welles."

The other scene we can see on the Internet shows the papparazzi buzzing around the character of Jake Hannaford as he attends his 70th birthday party. He's interviewed by a Hollywood reporter (played by Susan Strasberg) and it is a virtual master class in how to edit a scene -- Welles even has fun with the sound.

I don't think the production values of "The Other Side Of The Wind" are very good -- in fact they seem quite poor. But Welles was always excellent at using his editing suite to get the most powerful statement out of the film he had shot -- and some film he didn't shoot. (He creates some real tension in "F For Fake" by extending a period of silence between the writer Clifford Irving and the film's producer Francois Reichenbach that was shot for another documentary entirely.)

Welles always understood the plasticity of film. He understood almost more than anyone how it could be manipulated beyond the obvious ways. By the time he made "Wind", Welles was like a painter who was running out of paint. Rather than despair, he thought of news ways to use what few tools he had left, and in the process came up with a whole new way of depicting at things.

"The Other Side Of The Wind" may not be a very a good film. We'll see. It's entirely reasonable to have some doubts. But you just know that there will be some dazzling moments.

Do you remember that party that the Amberson's held in their lovely mansion? The one with the dancing? Maybe parts of "The Other Side Of The Wind" will be like that. It was a scene that didn't really have anything to do with the rest of the movie, but it was a beautiful thing to see.

Lars Trodson is the author of two novels, "Eagles Fly Alone" (http://amzn.to/1uRsL0E) and "Tide Turning." (http://amzn.to/1v38X9O)