Orson Welles’s Last Movie by Josh Karp (2015)

Book review: Orson Welles’s Last Movie by Josh Karp (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)

Orson Welles's Last Movie coverIn the summer of 1970 legendary but self-destructive director Orson Welles returned to Hollywood from years of self-imposed exile in Europe and decided it was time to make a comeback movie. Coincidentally it was the story of a legendary self-destructive director who returns to Hollywood from years of self-imposed exile in Europe. Welles swore it wasn’t autobiographical.

The Other Side of the Wind was supposed to take place during a single day, and Welles planned to shoot it in eight weeks. It took twelve years and remains unreleased and largely unseen. Orson Welles’ Last Movie by Josh Karp is a fast-paced, behind-the-scenes account of the bizarre, hilarious and remarkable making of what has been called “the greatest home movie that no one has ever seen.” Funded by the Shah of Iran’s brother-in-law, and based on a script that Welles rewrote every night for years, a final attempt to one-up his own best-work. It’s almost impossible to tell if art is imitating life or vice versa in the film. It’s a production best encompassed by its star, John Huston, who described the making of the film as “an adventure shared by desperate men that finally came to nothing.”

This book tells the story of Orson Welles’s last film, The Other Side of the Wind – a film caught up in a lot of bureaucracy. It managed to be filmed, but was never completed. Josh Karp does his very best to piece together the available information about why the finished film has never seen the light of day.

Production issues. Funding issues. Legal issues. Ownership issues. So many problems. In 1985, Welles died suddenly, and surely then the film could never be finished because the mastermind behind it wasn’t there. No, people still want to finish it.

There was an Indigogo campaign in 2015 to raise funds in order to have the film finished, but those of us who backed it are still waiting for that to happen. Currently apparently Netflix are in talks to finish it and screen it around the world. Here’s to hoping!

While the book was interesting, at times rather amusing, the ending felt very abrupt. It was just finger-pointing at Oja Kodar, Welles’s partner for many years, heavily implying she was trying to delay any attempts at getting it finished, stalling negotiations and so on. And as a reader you’re left hanging. It’s like the whole book is very thorough and engaging and then it ends in a sort of “tl;dr: Kodar doesn’t want it made, that’s about it, The End”. It feels very rushed. And, of course, the book came out before the Indigogo campaign, so that doesn’t even get a mention.

But aside from that, it’s really fascinating to read about how the film was made, even if said film is still not ready for release.

4 out of 5 blown budgets.

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