Orson Welles first movie, Citizen Kane from 1941, is largely regarded as the greatest film ever made. His last movie project remained unfinished and Josh Karp’s book “Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of the Other Side of the Wind” traces the making of Orson’s next masterpiece. Truth be told Orson made a number of masterpieces and Welles fans argue amongst themselves about which is truly his greatest movie. Touch of Evil, Othello, The Magnificent Ambersons, F for Fake and Orson’s personal favourite Chimes at Midnight are all contenders. The truth is that even his lesser movies have a certain magic: films cobbled together with low budgets, sometimes over years, made brilliant by the hand of genius. And Orson was a genius from his early stage plays, to his War of the Worlds radio play, to his Hollywood debut with Citizen Kane. He was a wunderkind but just like that his career went off the rails and he spent the rest of it fighting for artistic control and scrambling for money to create his projects. Josh Karp’s book finds Orson back in Hollywood in the 1970s with a new vision for a new masterpiece and perfectly captures the intrigue, chaos, vision and heartbreak as Orson made his last film, The Other Side of the Wind.
The first two chapters are an Orson Welles primer and do an excellent job of taking us from the beginnings of his life to where he was in 1970. From there we are introduced to the new project: The Other Side of the Wind. It would be a completely new style of film shot in a manner which would prove to be the next step in movies. It would star John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, and Oja Kodar. It would be filmed by Gary Graver a cameraman with minimal experience who plucked up the courage to phone Orson and ended up getting the job. Josh does a great job of getting us into the almost whimsical nature of Orson’s hirings and firings, tantrums and delights as he kicks and claws his way through the project. The book is very nearly a “whodunnit” with the mystery being what will Orson do next? Where will he film? How will we get the shots imagined in his head? Where will the money come from? Will the relationship between Orson and Peter last?. It’s absolute non-stop drama that can’t be put down and in the vein of whodunnit to tell more would be a spoiler.
The book is an absolute must read for any Welles fan or movie buff, but even the casual reader will find themselves caught up in the drama and the “what will happen next?” of it all. This is where Josh Karp’s book shines: it is equal to and up to the task of the story it’s telling. Where the shadow (pun intended) of Orson could easily overtake a lesser book or author, here the challenge is met. It seems as if the off camera action was almost performance art in the making of the film and the book is a natural history of the entire beautiful process.
p.s. It should be noted that after years of wrangling The Other Side of the Wind has finally been finished and will be released in 2018 along with a documentary.
ISBN 978-1-250-00708-7 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-250-01608-9 (e-book)
Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of the Other Side of the Wind by Josh Karp published by St. Martin’s Press