Time capsules are a funny thing. Most of us go through some period in our lives when the concept of a time capsule sounds appealing, usually at a formative time of childhood. Maybe it’s a school project, maybe a thought experiment, maybe an exercise in wistfulness or prescriptive nostalgia. But if you look up videos on the internet of people unearthing and opening time capsules, it’s often a rather unimpressive result. Life doesn’t always change as quickly as we think, and as we grow older our priorities and interests shift. What we thought was cool or important enough to preserve for “future generations” tends to amount to little more than a curiosity. It’s cool for a bit when we first open it, but don’t we have better things to do with our time than this?
You could argue that Netflix’s resurrection of Orson Welles’ unfinished The Other Side of the Wind is the cinematic equivalent of a time capsule. Welles mounted the film (troubled as his projects so often were) in the late 60s and into the 70s, shooting his final footage in 1976. He never managed to complete it prior to his death in 1985, but as was so often the case, he left behind 100 hours of film and copious notes on shot selection and editing that allowed Netflix, with the help of Welles’ friend and one of the stars of the film, Peter Bogdanovich, to finish The Other Side of the Wind to the best of the great director’s specifications. Now, in November 2018, more than 40 years after the cameras stopped rolling, the finished product has seen release.
it is so strange to try and contend with The Other Side of the Wind as a new piece of content in this day and age. Welles has been dead for 33 years. His star, the equally monolithic John Huston, has been dead for 31. But perhaps more importantly, the film was meant to be a product of its time, a reaction to the New Hollywood movement that purported to leave the old guard like him (and John Huston, for that matter) behind. It was mounted at a time New Hollywood was, well, new, and not the basis for decades of cinema that have taken their advancements to heart. The Other Side of the Wind is a long time removed from when Welles was the hotshot new director wrecking paradigms with Citizen Kane, but we’re also a long time removed from when The Other Side of the Wind was attempting to grapple with.
Obviously, even calling The Other Side of the Wind “finished” is a questionable endeavour, the sort that has led to a companion documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead from Morgan Neville (lately of Won’t You Be My Neighbor fame). It’s finished in the sense that restructured versions of The Magnificent Ambersons or Touch of Evil are finished, attempts at stitching together the pieces in assumption that this is what Welles wanted as final cut was unceasingly taken from him at every turn. As such, it’s tough not to think of The Other Side of the Wind as an academic project and temporal anomaly instead of a new film that’s capable of being judged on its own merits in 2018.