In a world where we are so anxious about dying and having people look through our browsing history, Netflix has no qualms about disturbing the balance one of cinema’s most symmetrical filmographies: that of Orson Welles.
Naturally, I, like most film fans, rejoiced at the news of Netflix’s restoration and release of the long-lost The Other Side of the Wind. But when I saw it at its premiere in Venice, it did not take me long to be disappointment.
Our obsession with the reissue of “lost” works of famous artists is sadistic; this is proven by the fact that it is only actuated through violence and death. On the other hand, it has less to do with the discovery of the works of Vincent Van Gogh and Franz Kafka, who suffered humiliation and rejection in their lifetime and had to die before being “discovered,” and more to do with those snakes who wait for “Mama Robin” to leave her nest in order to eat her eggs, often without even cracking their shells.
“Mama Robin” Ernest Hemingway, like Orson Welles, was concerned not only with his individual works but also aware of his entire oeuvre as the legacy that he would leave behind. The Garden of Eden, for example, was inexplicably posthumously released, even though it was clearly a botched “attempt” on his part to try a different, more rough-edged style.
Charles Chaplin, like Orson Welles, was concerned with his oeuvre and increasingly tweaked it along the way. He destroyed his own films, like The Gold Rush, because he deemed them dated. Years after its original release, he recut it and added a vocal narration that is generally frowned upon.
Welles exerted such godlike power over his works in a different way: by nipping them in the bud, sabotaging his own productions. He made money in different ways, often through many endeavors that were far inferior to his stature as an artist, but when it came to his own directorial efforts, he did not compromise.
Now that he is dead, he has no say on the matter. However, physical death is not necessary, as we have seen with Harper Lee and the release of Go Set a Watchman…
Despite the constant disappointment of the realization that most of these “lost” works were not lost to begin with and were rather “hidden,” we should all somehow always be thankful to the snakes that reissue them. But having had time to digest Netflix’s rescue of this film from oblivion, I take the side of Welles, who would never have wanted me to see The Other Side of the Wind in the first place.
It also bothers me that it was shot three years after F for Fake, which up to now had closed Welles’ official filmography, one which, let’s not forget, began with Citizen Kane.
I am not angry with Netflix. Netflix is a company, and it’s hardly going to waste its time rescuing those films that less famous makers were proud of, that may lay dormant in an archive somewhere, decaying and forgotten. I am not angry for the fact that it carries so few classic film titles but would rather claim to have revived the reputation of a director who, being one of the most famous directors ever, did not need reviving.
I’m angry at the fact that, in the end, it will all have been futile.
Very few people with a Netflix account (or otherwise) will actually watch The Other Side of the Wind or any of the Welles films that are available through its services. Thus, the perfect symmetry of Orson Welles’ filmography will essentially have been disturbed for no reason.