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An eye trained on Welles

The director filmed but never finished his final work. Gary Graver, his cameraman, aims to fix that.

February 08, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"The budget to complete 'The Other Side of the Wind' is $3.5 million. That includes all post-production, sound, music, etc. It can be purchased and finished for that amount. That's not much money for the film that book-ends 'Citizen Kane.' But it seems 'Freddie Got Fingered' and 'Jackass: The Movie' come first."

Veteran cinematographer and filmmaker Gary Graver is sounding off in his Studio City backyard. Graver worked with Orson Welles on 15 projects, including "The Other Side of the Wind," and he is attempting to set the record straight about the myth-enshrouded director, who died in 1985 at age 70, and his fabled final film.

For years Graver has struggled to get "The Other Side of the Wind" completed and released, to explain how simple it would be to rescue from oblivion the last work of the director widely hailed as the greatest American filmmaker. Many big Hollywood names -- among them Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Oliver Stone -- have seen the 40 minutes that Welles had completed at the time of his death, but no one has stepped up to the plate.

The American Cinematheque's Orson Welles Retrospective, which is sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and begins Thursday, has given Graver the perfect opportunity for another big pitch -- scenes from "The Other Side of the Wind" are to be shown Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. as part of a selection of unfinished Welles works.

The film, which features Oja Kodar, Welles' longtime companion and collaborator, and Peter Bogdanovich, is about a director named Jake Hannaford. "He is not modeled on John Huston, who plays him," Graver says, "but a director like Howard Hawks or Henry Hathaway or Henry King -- an all-around solid studio director who's done every kind of picture. Now he's trying to make a youth-oriented film in the early '70s, and he's in trouble with the script and with the budget. His leading man has quit, and all his cronies wonder how he can finish it."

The action takes place at Hannaford's desert house on the night of his 70th birthday. Journalists, film buffs and film students have been invited to party and they all bring cameras and tape recorders. "This gave Orson a chance to have the audience see the story unfold through a crazy collage of different types of film stock and lenses," Graver says. "The party has so many different looks -- but the rest of the film is in color." During the party Hannaford screens a rough cut of the film he is making, also called "The Other Side of the Wind."

"It's very sexy, very erotic for Orson, very different for him," Graver says. "During the party there's a power failure, so everyone goes out to the local drive-in to watch the end of the rough cut until dawn." (The film's ending that Graver describes is too stunning -- too Wellesian -- to reveal here.)

Shooting was completed on the film. "Orson edited about 40 minutes of various scenes," Graver says, "but the story has to be put together from the script and some editing notes he left." Kodar and Bogdanovich, who both appear in the film, would want to be involved in the completion.

When Huston asked Welles what "The Other Side of the Wind" was about, Welles reportedly said, "It's about a bastard director who's full of himself, who catches people and creates and destroys them. It's about us, John. It's a film about us."

To watch the 40 minutes Welles edited in dazzling, elliptical fashion is at once tantalizing and heartbreaking. There's a swirling party sequence in which Hannaford is swarmed by admirers with cameras as Susan Strasberg's Pauline Kael-like film critic tries to bait him. Bogdanovich plays a young director who has become more successful than his idol, mirroring his real-life relationship with Welles. In another scene, Norman Foster shows the unfinished film-within-the film to a less-than-enchanted studio head, clearly based on Robert Evans.

The rough-cut sequences show an exotic, statuesque beauty (Kodar) being stalked by a young man (Robert Random, who also starred in Budd Boetticher's final but unreleased film, "A Time for Dying") in a deliberate parody of Antonioni, whose films were detested by Welles. In another scene, Kodar seduces her stalker in a moving car, and then, in a surreal sequence, goes on a nude stroll. The film-within-a-film is intentionally amusingly pretentious, but thanks to Graver, gorgeous looking, the images as dynamic as Welles' editing.

Meeting his idol

Still slender at 63, his hair blond-streaked, Graver has been nuts about movies since his childhood in Portland, Ore. He made his first feature in Los Angeles in 1963, "The Embracers," a love story in which he co-starred; he's currently planning a sequel. During the next 10 years, the cinematographer worked on many exploitation pictures, collaborating with cult schlockmeister Al Adamson.

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