Filip Jan Rymsza’s “Hopper/Welles,” which screens this week at CPH:DOX, having premiered at the Venice Film Festival, is not the first tête-à-tête with the famous director for the Polish-born filmmaker. He was also behind the release of Welles’ “lost” film “The Other Side of the Wind,” which finally bowed at Venice in 2018 before being snapped by Netflix.
“I didn’t come into it as an avid Orson Welles fan, I came into it as a cinephile,” Rymsza says, about his journey that started 11 years ago, when he first heard about the rights to “The Other Side of the Wind” being available.
“This was one of these meetings that you take in Cannes, not quite sure where it will lead. I read a story about troubled projects and one of them focused on ‘The Magnificent Ambersons.’ There was a mention of ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ as well, tied up in a legal wrangle. I think they said it was the most famous film that was never finished. It started to really entice me.”
Admitting there is “something very masochistic” about the way he undertakes art, Rymsza took on the challenge. Going through 100 hours of footage with editor Bob Murawski, he discovered Welles’ lengthy conversation with Dennis Hopper, shot in 1970.
“I did have ‘Welles fatigue,’ as I like to call it,” he admits. “After nine years of ‘The Other Side of the Wind,’ I couldn’t wait to step away from it. It was really thanks to a friend who kind of coaxed me to revisit the material.” It was Nick Ebeling, director of the Hopper documentary “Along for the Ride.” “He asked about the Hopper footage, I started to describe it and that really urged me to take another look.”
They decided to keep the conversation as a whole, with Hopper and Welles shown discussing everything from the works of Antonioni (“I enjoyed what I saw but I couldn’t stay awake,” Hopper says) to “Easy Rider’s” reception in the U.S.
“What we cut out were some false starts, some things that didn’t feel like they were either progressing the conversation or were a part of the larger confrontation,” Rymsza says.
“There are plenty of awkward moments and repetition, but when you approach material like this, you either make it into something super polished or just opt for this intimate portrait,” says Rymsza, underlining that despite Welles’ complicated relationship with his editors, Murawski wasn’t the enemy of the film.
“Welles had films taken away from him, butchered. ‘Ambersons’ and ‘Touch of Evil’ were recut. He felt that undue credit was given to the editing of ‘Citizen Kane.’ He was extremely protective of his work.”
As a result, they also decided to keep some less-than-flattering moments, when Hopper and Welles talk about women. “You cringe. But you want to present these men as they were,” he says. “They had terrible relationships with women! Welles’ mother died very young, Hopper revealed he was sexually attracted to his. At that point, he was coming off his eight-day long marriage [to The Mamas and Papas’ Michelle Phillips]. Welles was with [Croatian actress] Oja Kodar, who was probably somewhere around, yet still married to his third wife. Some of that misogyny comes out.”
With Welles about to make a film where his male protagonist Jake Hannaford was, as Rymsza puts it, “an awful male chauvinist and a closeted homosexual,” it’s impossible to tell which quotes should be attributed to Welles and which to Hannaford. “This is one of those wonderful Welles puzzles,” he says.
Rymsza, who also recently produced Lech Majewski’s “Valley of the Gods,” starring Josh Hartnett and John Malkovich, doesn’t think he will come back to Welles any time soon, though. “The ‘Hopper/Welles’ thing was a wonderful surprise and something I wasn’t expecting to be as struck by when I rewatched it. It felt completely standalone. But I don’t think there is anything else out there that would be worth the investment of time. Now that I am through with Welles, there are other things I want to pursue.”
Rymsza will follow his latest directorial outing “Mosquito State” – also a Venice premiere last year – with “Object Permanence,” he tells Variety. Partially set in Berlin and shot in English, it will be another Polish co-production, most likely with Germany.
“’Object permanence’ is something that people were aware of already, they just didn’t know how to define it: It’s the understanding that objects continue to exist even if you can’t see them or hear them, or otherwise sense them,” he says, adding that while “Mosquito State” looked at the recent past, this will look into the near future.
With another project, set in Japan, currently put on hold due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Rymsza will once again try to focus on one protagonist. “It’s another piece that relies heavily on a single character and this time I get to do it with a female. This character just kept jumping out at me,” he adds.
Rymsza is represented by manager Brian Levy of Management 360, attorney Jonathan Gardner of Cohen Gardner LLP, and publicist Frank Lomento.