Producer Filip Jan Rymsza, editor Bob Murawski, along with Peter Bogdonavich and Frank Marshall, surprised the film world in 2018 when they finished Orson Welles’ final project The Other Side of the Wind. Two documentaries about making the film accompanied Wind’s release and a moment in film history was made. We spoke with the team during the New York Film Festival that year and thought their journey was over. So it was a surprise to learn Rymsza and Murawski had a fourth project from the material, debuting at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
Gary Graver, Welles’ cinematographer for Wind, shot nearly five hours of footage on two cameras when Orson Welles met Dennis Hopper for dinner in November 1970. Only thirty seconds of the footage appears in The Other Side of the Wind, but the conversation shows Welles curious about this alleged leader of the New Hollywood, a maverick like Welles, separated by a generation. Over the course of one night, Orson learns Hopper’s beliefs, the logic Hopper uses to believe it, and in the process dispels his preconceived notions of the young auteur. It’s two hours of cinephilic bliss.
We spoke with Rymsza and Murawski about making their fourth project with The Other Side of the Wind material, if there are more Wind projects are in the works, Welles’ preconceived ideas of Hopper, and if The Other Side of the Wind will receive a physical media release.
The Film Stage: Welles recorded the interview with Hopper in 1970 but the first known script for The Other Side of the Wind is from 1972, so this character Jake Hannaford that Orson is playing to interview Dennis was with him for a while. What is the origin of Jake?
Filip Jan Rymsza: It materialized in the late 1950s when he met Ernest Hemingway, that much we know. He went on record to say that, and at that point, he was thinking the relationship would be between an older bullfighter and his protégé. Much later, it changed to an older filmmaker on his way down and a young filmmaker on his way up. I think he already had a thesis of sort, more like a very succinct character breakdown on Hannaford. I don’t remember if that’s dated, but I think that predated this conversation with Hopper. Obviously, Hopper must have had something or was given something as a basis because given in this conversation, Welles often says, “Oh, no, remember? I’m on Franco’s side.” So he must have fed Hopper something, at least a little bit of background about who he was meeting with.
Netflix helped bring together the various pieces of The Other Side of Wind. Do they own the footage; is this their documentary?
Rymsza: No, it’s mine. With Netflix, it’s a picture license. They financed and then what I delivered was the three pictures, The Other Side of the Wind, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, and A Final Cut for Orson. But the negative was mine. Some of the rights were still retained by Oja Kodar who then passed it on to her nephew, Sasha Welles.
Is The Other Side of the Wind receiving a physical media release? If so, will Hopper/Welles and the other movies be included?
Rymsza: I’ve continued to have those conversations with Netflix. That’s a Netflix decision and my role at this point is just to check in with them every few months just to see where those conversations are at. Obviously, this is a totally separate title. So this is not part of Netflix’s deal. There’s obviously responsibilities that we have collectively to the investors who came on to complete this film. So we’re going to have to make economic decisions that are best for this particular title. Now, if there’s a world in which the home video rights could land together, I think that would be great. Especially if it does further those conversations for Netflix to be able to release this whole thing, all these titles together as a box set. There’s some more material, there’s more things that we’ve prepped. Assets that felt like supplements that could go on a physical media release, there’s other stuff that we can still do. There’s nothing planned, but there’s reason for hope.
Bob Murawski: We’re strong believers in physical media. It’s not dead yet. And the fans and film lovers still want to have something they can put on the shelf and know that two months from now, suddenly it’s not going to just disappear from the internet, and they won’t be able to see it again.
Rymsza: We wanted to do some commentary tracks. We do have some people who are still around whose perspective on this film is really interesting. Something we discussed early on with Netflix was if there is a way to embed a commentary track into the UI the same way that they have a dubbed version in a different language. Ultimately, the engineers said that no, there wasn’t that possibility. But obviously, on a physical media release, we certainly could do that. That’s something I’d love to see put together. Bob and I talk about it fairly frequently. So, we’ll see. I think with Hopper/Welles, obviously, if this is something that would help get a deal like that done, then we’ll certainly try to make that happen.
This is your fourth Welles project from this material. Do you have more in the works?
Rymsza: I don’t think there’s anything else in The Other Side of the Wind materials which would be as compelling and as standalone as what became Hopper/Welles. I think going into it, this was just The Other Side of the Wind. I felt like this would be one picture and that would be it. It was really through Morgan Neville where it became a companion documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. Then we were also shooting some of this behind the scenes stuff as I was in France, sorting through that whole legal wrangle, when I first found the negative and was looking for those materials. So that ended up becoming A Final Cut for Orson. So these things happened organically.
Hopper/Welles came about in a similar way, where my friend Nick Ebeling, who had done a documentary on Hopper, Along for the Ride. He was asking me what was there in these materials, because he knew that there was more than the thirty seconds we ended up using in The Other Side of the Wind. After we watched this entire conversation, we knew that it didn’t really fit The Other Side of the Wind. So we set it aside, but when I went back to it, at Nick’s urging, I felt like it was really compelling. A historical document that needed to be finished. So that started me on the journey.
Why did you make Hopper/Welles as a straightforward conversation opposed to something like They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, which provided context to the making of The Other Side of the Wind?
Murawski: I don’t think we ever really considered doing it like that because there’s not a lot of footage. There’s not a lot of knowledge about the actual interview footage that we have. There’s some mentions in Hopper’s book and I think Beatrice Welles mentioned a few things about it, what she thought the plan was for it. But really, it just seemed like the ideal way to present this would just to present it organically as it exists. An incredible two-hour conversation between two giants in the filmmaking world, and put the audience in the place of an observer at an event that was never really intended to be presented to the public.
We even talked about, at one point, maybe even leaving in the dirt and the scratches and not even really doing any restoration. It’s like, this is what we found, here it is, but then the more we looked at it, we thought this deserves to be restored. To not have the audience distracted by things like splices and scratches. So we tried to minimize those as much as possible. Our goal was always to present it as it happened, and not not make it into some sort of bogus documentary; trying to elevate the importance of it as like a lost Orson Welles movie, because it really isn’t that. It’s really just something that we found and wanted to present to the audience. And actually sometimes I feel a little queasy that we put a credit on it that says directed by Orson Welles because even though he did direct the shoot, he did not really direct the post production of it and who knows if he would even have wanted it released. But I’m sure he would be happy that we put it out because I think people are responding to it in the positive way that they should be.
Had Orson cut the negative of his conversation with Hopper?
Rymsza: The negative was cut. Much like with The Other Side of the Wind, Welles really chopped up the negative. This was part of him being forever the indie filmmaker and trying to be thrifty. He would chop up and he would only print very small pieces. So this was already very difficult, and inelastic to work with. What our editor Bob Murawski found was very similar to all the material for The Other Side of the Wind. On the positive side, you had an idea of what Welles liked and what he was looking for in the performance, and that became the rhythm of the cutting. The constant repositioning of the cameras led to taking on an aesthetic style similar to the way that Welles cut The Other Side of the Wind.
If there is a narrative to be found in the documentary, it’s Welles teasing out the logic of Hopper’s thoughts.
Rymsza: Orson was such a curious mind. I think he was certainly curious about Hopper. Hopper was somebody who started a movement that he wasn’t really comfortable in the role that he was cast in: as somebody who was really a poster child for this revolution, and Orson even goes so far to call him a reluctant revolutionary. Welles was in this exact same position following Citizen Kane, where he was the toast of the town. I think when Orson came back, and at this point, he hadn’t been in the States, really from 1958 to 1970, right after Touch of Evil, so he was away for 12 years and Hollywood had changed. I’m sure he was trying to catch up. At the same time, he was making a film about New Hollywood. So it made sense for him to check in and figure out who this guy was.
I think Orson isn’t very satisfied with Hopper’s answers. It sounds like he finds a lot of Hopper’s ideas wanting. What’s your analysis of their conversation?
Murawski: I think Orson probably came into it with more of a preconceived notion that Hopper was going to be more of the wild man and was going to have strong political convictions and really wanted to be on a soapbox with them. I do think he was probably a little disappointed when he confronted Hopper and Hopper was so non-committal about so many things. But at the same time, I think there was a lot of mutual respect and admiration between the two filmmakers and artists. You can definitely see that Orson is responding to some of the things that Hopper is saying about his movie and his parts in other films. And there’s a great part when Hopper tells Orson about this French guy’s movie he did this small vignette in, and Orson gives him a genuine compliment, and you can really see Hopper light up like it really means a lot to him that he’s gotten praise from Orson Welles. I think it’s not all like one-sided; Orson attacking Hopper, Hopper not being able to fight back. I think there’s a lot of genuine moments of filmmaker bonding in it too, which is what I really like about it. I think it presents a sort of sweeter side of Dennis Hopper than people are used to seeing. People are used to seeing this more abrasive, weird character. I like that it shows that he’s a bit vulnerable in a lot of ways and comes across as a more gentle soul than people might realize.
To use Orson’s philosophy of the editing room, Bob, in what way were you the “enemy” of Hopper/Welles?
Murawski: Filip was attacking me for not being the enemy that I should have been! [Laughs.] Because, again, if this was a real movie, and Orson was around, and we were working with him as the director and his cuts were being sanctioned, there’s a lot of places where we could have pulled out things that were redundant. But what I found showing it to people is that everybody that I showed it to responded to different things, and some people were really into the filmmaking stuff, the stories about Hollywood and the stories working with Elvis and the stories about the Fonda family. Other people responded to where they’re discussing the foreign films, Antonioni and Buñuel. Still other people were responding to the things that were current events of the time, the more political stuff and things relating to the Vietnam War. We could have gone in and removed those sections as a unit, but it felt like it would be cheating the audience.
Hopper/Welles premiered at Venice Film Festival and New York Film Festival.