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Netflix buys rights to Orson Welles’ unfinished movie almost 50 years after shooting began

UPDATED: WEDNESDAY, MARCH 15, 2017, 9:37 A.M.

Netflix has acquired the global rights to the late Orson Welles’ unfinished film “The Other Side of the Wind” and will finance its completion and restoration. Netflixs announcement Tuesday, March 14, 2017, brought to a close the decades-long mystery surrounding one cinemas greatest filmmakers. (Jacques Langevin / AP)
Netflix has acquired the global rights to the late Orson Welles’ unfinished film “The Other Side of the Wind” and will finance its completion and restoration. Netflixs announcement Tuesday, March 14, 2017, brought to a close the decades-long mystery surrounding one cinemas greatest filmmakers. (Jacques Langevin / AP)

Hollywood’s most famous unreleased movie finally found a home – and 86 million potential viewers.

Netflix announced on Tuesday it has acquired the rights to “The Other Side of the Wind,” Orson Welles’s unfinished film, the A.V. Club reported.

“The promise of being able to bring to the world this unfinished work of Welles with his true artistic intention intact is a point of pride for me and for Netflix,” Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, told the Guardian in a statement.

Welles, the acclaimed director behind “Citizen Kane” and “Touch of Evil,” left behind several uncompleted projects when he died of a heart attack in 1985. Perhaps the most famous of these was “The Other Side of the Wind,” a film which he began shooting in 1970 and was mentioned in his New York Times obituary as a “major project” which “remains unfinished.”

Not only has the movie has been the subject of several books, it has long been at the center of legal battles among its rights holders, which included Welles’ daughter Beatrice and Mehdi Bushehri, the brother-in-law of the former shah of Iran.

Meanwhile, 1,083 reels of negatives gathered dust in a Paris warehouse, the New York Times reported in 2014.

That same year, Royal Road Entertainment announced it reached an agreement to purchase the rights to the film, which it planned to complete and screen on May 6, 2015, the 100-year anniversary of Welles’s birth. A producing team of Frank Marshall, an original line producer on the film, Filip Jan Rymsza and Peter Bogdanovich, who acted in the film, would finish the movie using Welles’ notes.

Rymsza told the newspaper of the reels, “I was relieved to see it was in such good condition – no mold or any degradation and the materials were in their original boxes.”

At the time, Rymsza said the purchase was backed by a private investor, whom he did not name. That financing, as Slate reported, fell through. An Indiegogo campaign to crowdsource the $2 million required to finish the film only raised $406,605, and Royal Road Entertainment essentially fell silent until Tuesday’s announcement. It remains unclear what happened to that money.

Also unclear is when the film will be finished and released.

“That’s the beauty of Netflix,” Rymsza told the New York Times. “We can now take our time.”

Welles reportedly worked on the movie for 15 years, hoping it would serve as his triumphant comeback in Hollywood. (The last original, full-length film he directed was “F for Fake” in the mid-1970s.)

Myriad reasons exist for the movie not being completed in the first place, the most likely might being Welles’ consistently shifting vision for the picture.

The film, which features Susan Strasberg, Lilli Palmer, Dennis Hopper and Bogdanovich, is ostensibly about a director named Jake Hannaford (played by John Huston) who returns to Hollywood from Europe to work on his comeback movie (also) titled “The Other Side of the Wind.”

But one of the screenplay’s original drafts, for example, was about “a hyper-manly, middle-aged, American novelist living in Spain who has lost his creative powers and become obsessed with a young bullfighter,” inspired by a 1937 fistfight and subsequent friendship he shared with Ernest Hemingway, according to an adapted excerpt in Vanity Fair of Josh Karp’s book about the movie.

After burning through several scripts – enough to fill a “three-volume novel” – and revising them nightly, Welles at one point in 1966 said “We’re going to shoot it without a script.”

Though Welles hoped to make two distinct films – the main story about Hannaford intercut with scenes from Hannaford’s movie – he planned to shoot the entire enterprise in eight weeks. That soon turned into six years of filming, much of which he did before even casting an actor as Hananford, the main character.

The filming itself would often start and stop, as Welles would exhaust his budget and then work on other projects to make enough money to continue.

Further complicating matters, four years into shooting “almost nobody seemed to understand the plot beyond their own role,” Karp wrote. “… every scene seemed to exist primarily in Orson’s head. And there were even days when Welles seemed confused by what he was filming and why he was filming it.”

His film seemed to mirror his life (after all, the fictional director in it is creating a movie bearing the same title as Welles’), but Welles long insisted it wasn’t autobiographical.

Then, as Karp reported, one day he told Huston, “It’s a film about a bastard director. … It’s about us, John. It’s a film about us.”

By 1976, Welles had wrapped up the main shooting, but he couldn’t raise money to finish editing the raw footage.

Furthermore, questions of which financial backers owned the film complicated matters. Bushehri “took control of the negative reels in France, which is why they remained in the suburban Paris warehouse,” the New York Times reported.

As Karp wrote, “Orson spent the rest of his life battling for control of the film and seeking money for its completion.”

Now, a streaming service that was almost unimaginable during the director’s lifetime is offering the money.



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