It’s hard to approach The Other Side of the Wind as a young cinephile. For an older generation, those whose love of cinema began in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the film’s completion after nearly 50 years is something like a miracle. For my part, I can only appreciate the historical significance of its release from a distance, while acknowledging that had the film been released as planned in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, it would likely be sitting on my watchlist alongside The Trial and Mr. Arkadin and numerous other Welles blindspots I have yet to cover.

Then again, had it been released as intended, we would be discussing a completely different filmic object. In considering The Other Side of the Wind as Orson Welles’s final statement, one must come to terms with the fact that it is no longer really his film. While the editors who put together the final product worked closely with notes that Welles left, and to my eyes, have done a good job of approximating the editorial style of his later period, they were also working with hundreds of hours of footage, and there’s no way to know exactly what Welles would have done with that footage had he been in the editing room with them. Michel Legrand’s score, a fairly constant presence in the film, was written in the past year. There’s even a brief opening narrated by Peter Bogdanovich, in character as director Brooks Otterlake, which frames the film specifically as a sort of found footage work being released in 2018 (there’s a slightly forced reference to cell phones that I wish had been excised).

On the other hand, no new footage was shot, and the design of the film in macro—the rapid cutting, the shifts between black-and-white and color, the changing aspect ratios, the glimpses of the film-within-the-film—is by all accounts Welles’s vision, whether or not the specifics of the execution are his doing. Authorship is a tricky question for filmmaking anyway; critics often make the mistake of automatically attributing decisions that could have been made by an editor or cinematographer to the director, but short of interviewing every crew member at length about any given work, there’s no way to know for sure who did what. That’s why the question of auteurism should never be a simple matter of attribution. It’s rather a choice to view a work through the lens of a particular artist’s body of work, and thus, to locate what exactly one values about that artist. I suppose someone could choose to watch The Other Side of the Wind within the context of editor Bob Murawski’s oeuvre, to attempt to find a consistent stylistic throughline between this and his prior works, but Murawski didn’t make Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons .

And considering the shadow Welles cast over everyone involved in the project, it becomes something of a moot point. If The Other Side of the Wind was designed as an Orson Welles film (and it is certainly being marketed as such by Netflix), then all that’s left for us to do is determine if it amounts to an Orson Welles film, if it feels imbued with his personality and his passions and his interests. I think it does, and what’s more, I would classify it among his most compelling works.

It strikes me as the culmination of various ideas about filmmaking and editing that he had been working through, at least since he began making films in color in the late ‘60s if not prior to that. Welles, once known for his long fluid camera movements and expressive compositions, began, as his career progressed, to undermine the perfectionist tendencies of his imagemaking with these strange offset editing rhythms, so that he might construct a gorgeous frame with the precision of a master painter, and then immediately cut away from it to an uncomfortable canted-angle closeup or a seemingly random insert that might just be there to add detail or texture to the film. The flow of images began to follow its own logic, separate from narrative concerns, separate even from the sound mix (much of the sound in late Welles has this odd disembodied feeling to it).

The Other Side of the Wind feels like the purest expression of this style; the film’s incredibly shaggy outline of a plot—an aging, legendary filmmaker throws a party celebrating the first cut of his new film—allows for a work that is not concerned in any significant way with being about anything, with presenting any thematic content or constructing an argument. Rather, it is concerned simply with creating a space for this new formal approach to flourish. Of course, certain ideas arise from the proceedings, but not in the deterministic way that they do in an essay film like F for Fake or in the storytelling-obsessed fable of The Immortal Story. That freedom to create without coming to much of a point feels like a genuinely new development in Welles’s career; for a man who came from the Shakespearean tradition, and whose Citizen Kane is often held up in film schools as the textbook example of form and content’s perfect marriage, there’s a certain liberation to letting his formal experimentalist side loose while his classical dramatist side sits one out.

It’s a risk, I suppose. Some will immediately vibe with the nonstop assault of wild imagery, but for those who don’t, they won’t be left with much to grasp onto, unless they are especially interested in mining the film for autobiographical detail. I, for one, am not, though I found it hard not to be moved by the final image, which is in some sense Welles’s final image: a deeply personal, iconoclastic, bewildering film playing to an empty drive-in theater. Even the director isn’t there.