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Last October, we learned that Orson Welles' incomplete last film, "The Other Side of the Wind," might finally be finished in time for this year's Cannes Film Festival. After reading "Orson Welles's Last Movie," Josh Karp's engrossing new book about the making and unmaking of the would-be masterpiece, I can't help feeling skeptical.

Karp's mad-cap chronicle, by turns hilarious and tragic, is a hall of funhouse mirrors. It's the unfinished story of an unfinished movie that echoed Welles' life in eerie ways, never mind his repeated insistence that it wasn't about him.

The semi-improvised production revolves around a brilliant, egotistical director named James Hannaford, who struggles to finance a movie he hopes will revive his career. Dogged by sycophants, alcoholism, repressed sexuality and a desperate fear of finishing anything, Hannaford dies a broken man at the age of 70.

Welles began shooting in 1970, on locations ranging from the house of his protégé, Peter Bogdanovich, to a town called Carefree, Arizona. After about five years of chaotic and often illegal filmmaking, followed by 10 years in search of financing, Orson himself died at age 70.

He'd blamed many parties for his failure, including Iran's revolutionaries. The deposed Shah's brother-in-law owned half the movie. But Welles was clearly his own worst enemy. He thought every film after Citizen Kane was ruined by studio meddling, and his paranoid distrust of outside financiers sabotaged the project that might have redeemed him.

Welles left a fractured estate, which pitted his mistress, his children and investors against each other and doomed periodic efforts to cut and release "The Other Side of the Wind." Three decades after his death, a finished production would feel like a miracle. 

But even if Welles’s ghost masterpiece never sees the light of day, we’ll always have Karp's wonderful and poignant gem of a Hollywood disaster story. I hope they make a movie of it.

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