Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. France/Iran/USA, 2018. Royal Road Entertainment, Les Films de l’Astrophore, SACI, Americas Film Conservancy. Screenplay by Oja Kodar, Orson Welles. Cinematography by Gary Graver. Produced by Frank Marshall, Filip Jan Rymsza. Music by Michel Legrand. Production Design by Polly Platt. Film Editing by Bob Murawski, Orson Welles.
Orson Welles filmed roughly one hundred hours of footage between 1970 and 1976, followed by years of the financial and legal woes that plagued most of his films before his death in 1985. Having left behind a great deal of material detailing his plans for assembling what he shot, this 2018 release is the result of meticulous work overseen by Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall to bring Welles’ lost project to life, and the result is a movie lover’s dream. The multi-tiered story features a superb John Huston as a filmmaker who has, ironically, died in a car crash before completing his final film, one intended to revive his flagging career by featuring plenty of nudity and sex. We get healthy doses of the film within a film, a very groovy movie featuring Oja Kadar and Robert Random in perpetual states of undress wandering gorgeous desert landscapes, which are intercut with scenes of 8 1/2-style noise from Huston’s birthday party and the press and documentary crew following him in his final moments. As with many of Welles’ later works that showed more of an emphasis on his skills as a collage artist than on emotionally resonant storytelling, this one intelligently skewers the creative process but, in its shocking haze of phantasmagoria, doesn’t exactly hit deep and will be an alienating (or just boring) experience for some. The expert footage that Welles captured, however, combined with modern technology being wielded by people who capture the flavour of his filmmaking style beautifully (the film stock looks gorgeous and the sound is superb), does prove that the effort was well worth it and the experiment is officially a success. Bogdanovich himself appears as Huston’s complicated protege, while other luminaries in supporting roles include Edmond O’Brien, Mercedes McCambridge, a lovely Lilli Palmer, and Cameron Mitchell.