One last toast to the wunderkind

Dispatches from the 45th Telluride Film Festival

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A still from 'The Eyes of Orson Welles.' You can catch Orson Welles’ final masterpiece, as well as two documentaries about the filmmaker, on Netflix Nov. 2.
Caitlin Rockett | Boulder Weekly

Let us raise our cups. Standing as some of us do on opposite ends of the river, and drink together. … To the movies. To good movies. To every possible kind.”

Those words, uttered by Orson Welles at his American Film Institute lifetime achievement acceptance speech in 1975, rang true this past weekend across hockey rinks, elementary school gymnasiums and the open-air theater of Telluride, Colorado. It’s an annual tradition, going back 44 Labor Day weekends now, where the small mountain town transforms into a moviegoer’s paradise. The hockey rink becomes the Werner Herzog Theater with the best sound you’ve ever heard. The gymnasium pays homage to magician Georges Méliès. The movies in the park play under a canvas of stars so bright it almost draws your eyes from the stars on the screen.

But for the 45th festival, no star shone brighter than Welles. As Jean-Luc Godard once said, “All of us will always owe him everything;” a proclamation several filmmakers cash in on: from producer Frank Marshall to historian Joseph McBride; from documentarians Mark Cousins and Morgan Neville to Welles’ most loyal apostle, Peter Bogdanovich.

Their offerings: three documentaries and Welles’ unfinished final film, The Other Side of the Wind. Welles started Wind — about the making of a movie — in 1970, but the production was troubled. Money dried up fast; Welles filmed in fits and starts over the course of six years, compiling 100 hours of footage. Then, in 1985, Welles died, leaving the negative and production notes scattered across Europe.

What happened next is a movie in itself. And it is — in They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, the documentary from Neville, and A Final Cut For Orson: 40 Years in the Making, produced by Marshall — now a legend of the business. But back in 1970, he was just another acolyte trying to bring Welles’ vision to fruition.

Blissfully and, somewhat surprisingly, The Other Side of the Wind is nothing short of a masterpiece. Dense in content, melancholic in tone and downright demonic at times, Wind is a confrontational film, as funny as it is perverse. Welles must have known it was to be his last film because he put every last idea he had into it.

Like his best work, Wind demands multiple viewings, bolstered by They’ll Love Me and A Final Cut. Both docs will be released on Netflix, along with Wind on Nov. 2.

Yes, all three celebrate the “lone male genius,” but none are content to leave it at that. Wind, They’ll Love Me and, particularly, The Eyes of Orson Welles — which explores Welles’ little-seen graphic work — don’t merely take their subject warts and all. Nor do they fixate on one man’s lone Freudian fall from grace. Instead, they look to see what drives the pleasures of obsession and the follies of failure.

It’s been more than 40 years since Orson Welles made a film — and more than 30 since he drew breath — yet, cinema’s first wunderkind feels as present as he’s ever been. They always said Welles was a filmmaker ahead of his time. It looks like they were more right than they could have possibly imagined.