In an intriguing coincidence, the latest works by the iconoclastic American independent auteurs Orson Welles and JP Allen open opposite each other in the Bay Area this weekend. One director has written, directed and (with one exception) acted in seven films, all of which he financed himself. The other is Orson Welles.
Welles hardly needs elucidation, other than to say that he started filming The Other Side of the Wind in 1970 and was never able to finish it before he died in 1985. Film buffs had resigned themselves to the probability that the movie would never exist in a completed state. It does now, thankfully, and opens at the Roxie and debuts on Netflix Nov. 2. However, The Other Side of the Wind is not the film to start with if you’re just discovering Orson Welles. That would be Citizen Kane, or one of his other masterpieces.
JP Allen, on the other hand, should be far better known—certainly in San Francisco, where he’s shot all but one of his juicily cerebral films. His recurring theme is the sexual and psychological dynamics that heat and power romantic relationships, but he’s equally passionate about reconfiguring narratives and subverting movie formulas and clichés.
The Filmmaker (opening at the Presidio Theater on Nov. 2), like many of Allen’s films, presents its protagonist and the audience with a mystery. A solitary photographer and sometime video maker (played by Allen) discovers that his apartment’s been broken into and his identity compromised. Starkly alone in the deserted, canyon-like half-block of Stockton south of the Broadway Tunnel, he gets a cellphone call entangling him with a woman half his age (Ashley Rain Turner, giving a raw and brave performance) who’s traced him from Las Vegas.
As is invariably the case in Allen’s work, the agent of the man’s torment holds the key to his evolution (and, just maybe, redemption). And, as is also typical in his films, the man writhes and wrestles to retain control of the situation to the point of absurdity (though not tragedy). What happened in Vegas many years ago, between our now-jaded and faded hero and a beguiling woman he met at a trade show, can’t stay in Vegas—or his lacquered memory—anymore.
The Filmmaker, which was inspired by rather than adapted from Allen’s 2008 novel of the same name, questions our responsibilities—debts, if you will—to others, and the degree to which we can alter the paths they’re on. Entwined with that altruistic or guilty impulse is the imperative to come to terms with the misunderstandings and desecrations of one’s past. Allen, abetted by Daniel Teixeira-Gomes’ shimmering cinematography, depicts San Francisco as a mixture of Lonely Avenue and Sin City. If you live here, you’re home already.