An eye trained on Welles

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.

But Welles had long been his idol. Then, on July 4, 1970, Graver read in Variety that Welles was in town. "I just figured [he would be] at the Beverly Hills Hotel -- later Orson would teach me never to assume anything -- so I called up the hotel and asked for him."

Welles did in fact answer the phone. Graver told him he was a young cameraman who would like to work for him. Welles said he couldn't talk to him right then but asked him for his number. "I went home to my house in Laurel Canyon, and the phone was ringing," Graver continues. " 'This is Orson, get over to the Beverly Hills Hotel right away. I've got to talk to you.' "

What Welles wanted to talk about was "The Other Side of the Wind." "While we were talking, he suddenly grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me to the floor -- and then threw himself on top of me, and he was a big guy! I tried to get up and he said, 'Shhh, shhh.' Finally he let me up and explained what was going on: 'Ruth Gordon is walking up and down outside the window, and she'll want to talk to me if she sees me, and she talks a lot, and I want to talk to you!' "

After Graver spent several days making tests for Welles, he became Welles' principal cameraman for the rest of the director's life.

"I called Orson because I knew we would have the same sense of humor and that we would get along," Graver says. "I wanted more Orson Welles movies, and the only way to get them was to go to work for him. I knew how to make a movie without much money, and he liked that.

"People believe the myth of his extravagance," Graver adds, "but he wasn't like that at all. For the next 15 years I spent nearly every day with him. He said, 'If you get a job I'll let you know if you can do it,' and he often did."

"The Other Side of the Wind" began with Welles' own money. The crew shot four months in L.A. and four months in Carefree, Ariz., outside Phoenix. Then, Graver says, "We stopped and went to Europe to make 'F for Fake' [which would be Welles' penultimate film] and worked on some other projects. This was '72 and '73. Back in Los Angeles we shot Huston -- he and Orson were great friends -- in the spring of 1975. We shot lots more party stuff at Bogdanovich's house."

At one point Welles had seven editors working simultaneously on "The Other Side of the Wind," but suddenly he had Graver gather the footage to take back to Hollywood, where Welles kept editing.

"After Orson died no one was interested in doing anything about 'The Other Side of the Wind,' " Graver says. Even so, Kodar and Bogdanovich pressed on, struggling to get it completed. There was momentary hope that Huston might finish the film, but his commitment to "The Dead" and his own failing health made that impossible. Frank Marshall, who signed on as executive producer from 1972 to 1977, also tried to have the film finished; he is still listed as the film's producer.

Then, Graver says, two things happened: "Touch of Evil" was restored and made money for Universal, and the American Film Institute poll proclaimed "Citizen Kane" Number 1 in the 100 best films of the sound era. Suddenly there was renewed interest in "The Other Side of the Wind," though nothing has come through.

DVD potential

Half the film is owned by Kodar and half is owned by Mehdi Bousheri. All the negatives are in a lab vault in Paris. (Bousheri is the brother-in-law of the late Shah of Iran, which led to rumors that the negatives were in somebody's basement in Tehran.) "It's very simple," Graver says. "Everyone was paid, there are no legal problems." Graver believes the film has commercial potential in DVD sales alone. "Orson's films have a great shelf life," Graver says. "They'll last forever."

Over the years, Graver has worked with many directors, including Ron Howard, accruing 165 feature credits. He has made numerous documentaries -- on Billy Wilder, Douglas Sirk and his own relationship with Welles. Far from retired, Graver recently shot Curtis Harrington's exquisite short film, "Usher," and they hope to collaborate on "The Masque of Red Death." "I've worked on crummy movies, but I'm a snob when it comes to films," says Graver, who with his wife, Jillian, has established the nonprofit Orson Welles Film Archive.

But nothing in his working life has affected him as strongly as the work he did with Welles.

"Orson had kind of a reputation for not finishing things or for running out of money. He was always trying to raise money, but the fact is that almost everybody in Hollywood is always trying to raise money. But Orson was famous for it. He always produced everything himself, no matter whose name was on the picture."

Graver contests the widespread impression that Welles' career was over after he left RKO, and points out that by starring in "Citizen Kane" Welles was "smart enough to set himself up as a leading man so that he could make money the rest of his life in order to finance his projects.

"He always had four or five different projects going on in various stages. He was supposed to start a project the day he died," Graver says. "We were to film 'Julius Caesar' at a theater at UCLA, and he would play every part himself. "

Ironically, Graver adds, the first friend to reach his house on Stanley Avenue in Hollywood after his death was Paul Stewart, the actor who found Charles Foster Kane dead in "Citizen Kane."

"Orson is often thought of as having died pathetic and broke," Graver says, "but he made more money at the end of his life than perhaps ever before. He was in fact offered projects to direct, but by then he wanted to do only his own scripts.

"He would say, 'I have to make an Orson Welles movie.' "

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Rogue Genius: An Orson Welles Retrospective

Where: Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m., "Citizen Kane" and Welles' first short; Saturday, 5 p.m., "The Magnificent Ambersons." Saturday, 7:30 p.m., "The Lady From Shanghai." Next Sunday, 4 p.m., "Othello." Next Sunday, 6:30 p.m., "Touch of Evil." Complete schedule at www.americancinematheque.com.

Ends: March 31

Price: $6 to $9

Contact: (323) 466-FILM.

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