In some ways, they couldn’t appear more different.  The Other Side of the Wind was filmed in the the 1970’s (some in the early part of the decade, some in the middle), considerable portions are in black and white, it’s filmed mostly within a house, uses many people whose primary profession wasn’t acting and is clearly a film that was only fully constructed in the editing room, over four decades after filming was completed.  The Man Who Killed don Quixote was filmed just two years ago with one of the great British actors currently at work and a rising star who is the current villain in a massive franchise and a recent Oscar nominee.  Indeed, while few of the actors in the former have much on their acting resumes, four of the main actors in the latter film combine four of the biggest films franchises in history (Star Wars, Pirates, Marvel Cinematic Universe, James Bond).  It clearly had more of a budget, is shot on incredible natural scenery in Europe and started filming just over two years ago.  Yet, the films are also so much alike and their stories are so painfully similar that it makes you weep to see the shit that inhabits so many movie theaters every week given how long it took these two fantastic films to even be seen.

The two films actually share more than you would think.  First, there was the fear that neither would live up to the weight of their expectations.  The Other Side of the Wind was a legendary unfinished film, on the scale of the 1937 production of I, Claudius and the footage had been locked up for decades (see below).  Indeed, when Peter Bogdanovich finally finished his book of interviews with Orson Welles (seven years after Welles died), The Other Side of the Wind is mentioned throughout and that was in 1992.  It finally was completed and released via Netflix this past winter.  Since Welles had talked it up for so long (he worked on it for most of the 70’s and didn’t die until 1985), could it possibly be the comeback film he had promised?  Well, in some ways, absolutely not.  There’s no way that Hollywood would have ever given him money based on this film but that’s not because this film isn’t good (it’s very good as I will explain in a minute) but because the film utterly drags Hollywood (and others) through the mud.

It’s the film of a tired director, a red-blooded living example of machismo, who wants to shoot things his own way, no matter that he has no workable script, a star who can’t act and there’s no guiding thought for what the finished film will look like.  Then he gathers his cast and crew and brings them out to his house for something that is part-birthday party and part-self destruction in front of witnesses.  His house is full of sycophants (some based on real people), those who would drag him down (including a vicious satirization of Pauline Kael from Susan Strasberg, one of the actors in the film with the biggest resumes – while I had to read about the targets of several of the film’s characters, that one was obvious to me in an instant) and anyone who can just hope to get anywhere.  The film is a combination of a Godard-type film that has no idea where it’s going or what it’s trying to say (the film within a film which is in color) and the events at the party (in black-and-white).  The acting can be a bit uneven with the exceptions of Strasberg, Peter Bogdanovich himself (doing a lot of impersonations rather amusingly while trying not to lose his favored spot in the director’s entourage) and the director himself, brilliantly played by John Huston in a caricature not of Welles and only a little bit of himself (remember, this is the man who wanted to shoot an elephant on the set of The African Queen) but also of the whole Hollywood system of directors who all wanted to prove they were the biggest men even as their careers were winding down.

The film isn’t at the level of Welles’ best work but when your best work consists of Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil and Chimes at Midnight, you’re already so far above everyone else that there’s little left to reach for.  What the film proves is that Welles still had an eye for what was going on in film and the wittiness to tear it all down while also begging those people to give him enough money to make just one more film.

Then there is The Man Who Killed don Quixote.  Gilliam’s film had been on his mind so long it’s mentioned in my book Dark Knights and Holy Fools which was published back in 1999.  Gilliam got the money together to make the film in 2000 and had Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp on set and then everything collapsed.  There were sound problems (a nearby military base), a catastrophic flood that destroyed the sets and a lead actor who clearly was not well enough to be sitting on a horse.  The film turned into such a legendary disaster that what was supposed to be a behind-the-scenes documentary about making the film turned into a brilliant documentary about how the film hadn’t been made, one of the few documentaries I have ever seen in the theater, Lost in La Mancha.  Yet, 17 years after seeing that in the theater, I was sitting in my seat watching the lights come up after seeing the finished film.

Once again, it’s not a perfect film, but it is actually one hell of a film.  Time changed the script somewhat (in the original idea, a man is hit on the head and goes back into Don Quixote from the present while in this one, a commercial director finds the student film he made about Don Quixote, revisits the nearby Spanish town where he filmed it and finds the man he hired to play the legendary knight now believing he really is Don Quixote himself.

I don’t know that any film version of the script could have turned out better.  As a brilliant Quixote, we have Jonathan Pryce, subsumed completely into the role of a poor shoemaker who was given a taste of stardom and has fallen prey to it.  When poor Toby (played hilariously by Adam Driver) comes a-calling again, the two of them end up in the middle of an epic adventure.  Yet, this isn’t just another version of the legendary novel (yes, it really has been filmed before in films that weren’t abandoned).  What Gilliam gives us is another satirization of Hollywood.  Driver’s Toby was once a student filmmaker with dreams and actual ideas but now he’s just a hack, wasting money in Spain to film a commercial.  His boss doesn’t know or seem to care (he does care that someone tries to sleep with his wife but he seems oblivious at first that it’s Toby even though it seems pretty obvious that his wife wants to sleep with Toby) and they’re being funded by a loathsome Russian oligarch (“Just think of a toddler on a sugar rush,” Toby is told by a boss about how to deal with the Russian, “think Trump.”).

Yet, the fact that either one of these films ever got made by these directors, especially with their savage satire set directly on the hand that kept not feeding them is part of the joy.  That they are also really good gives an added pleasure to a measure of revenge that Gilliam at least can enjoy at 78, a good eight years older than Welles ever reached.

But these films have more in common than just the fact that they both took a long time to make, both finally have been released for people to see, both are actually really good, if perhaps not as great as we would like given how long we waited to see them and both have a satirical look at the industry that spawned them.  Both have documentaries that go along with them as well.  Lost in La Mancha, of course, covers the first attempt to make Gilliam’s film.  For Welles, we have the brilliant They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead which covers Welles’ attempts to get the film made and the years spent trying to put it together before Welles finally died with a lot of useful insights from Bogdanovich (and some of the others from the film who are still alive which isn’t many).

Then there are the directors themselves.  Both of them came to film from other mediums (Welles was a brilliant theater director and actor, Gilliam, of course, was part of Monty Python) were viewed as geniuses but both of them were completely misunderstood by Hollywood.  In 1942, after finishing The Magnificent Ambersons and departing for Latin America on behalf of the government, the film was re-edited and Welles’ reputation was destroyed.  In 1985, Gilliam made Brazil and a change in management at Universal lead to Gilliam publishing a plea in Variety for his film to be released and eventually multiple cuts were made (there’s a fantastic book about the whole thing called The Battle of Brazil).

Welles continued to be a great director but Hollywood would not give him a budget.  He would be forced to act in films to make money and then fund his films himself and yet that still gave us Othello, The Trial and Chimes at Midnight.  Gilliam would be forced to use other writers instead of his own ideas after Brazil and the problems with Baron Munchausen (see my Columbia post here) and it’s been a long time since any studio was willing to give him any money.

What’s more, both men had their own films held up by foreign money that may not have had any right to it.  In the Welles documentary you can hear about the Iranian backers who caused problems with the film while the release of Gilliams’ film was held up by a Portuguese producer who claims he own the rights to the film in spite of providing no actual financial backing.

Then, of course, there is just the journey the two directors went on.  In 2000, Gilliam tried to film a version of Don Quixote and it collapsed.  Yet, some 40 years before, Welles himself had filmed a version and couldn’t ever decide that it was finished and kept shooting more and destroying footage and no finished film was ever produced.

Both directors are among the greatest to ever work in the field and we can only imagine what we might possibly have gotten if some damn visionary producers had ever decided to work with them.  But in the space of a few months, we have at least, finally, gotten works from them that have been promised for so long and you should take the time to see both of them if you ever get the chance.