2018 | Documentary | rated R | narrated by Alan Cumming | directed by Morgan Neville | 1 hr 38 mins |
Released on the same day as Orson Welles’ long unfinished film, The Other Side of the Wind, Morgan Neville’s documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead chronicles the turbulent making of that movie and Orson’s final years. It plays now like a companion piece to the film – an essential one for those that require explanations given how enigmatic Wind is – but by the end of the film it’s clear that this documentary was designed to be a replacement for that one, hammering home just how miraculous it is that we now get to see The Other Side of the Wind finally completed.
Room 237 was put together by with clips from Stanley Kubrick films and Neville puts Dead together with clips from Orson Welles movies, with Wind and F for Fake doing the lion’s share of the lifting. Unlike the best celebrity documentaries – 237, Exit Through the Gift Shop and Lost Soul – Dead doesn’t use it’s subject as a springboard to illuminate a grander story, but it does do it’s best to make sense of what Welles was trying to accomplish with Wind and, most interestingly, where his head was at in his final years. It clarifies a lot about the movie and even though I’d already seen it, made me want to pop Other Side of the Wind back in and dig through it again with the new information. The relationship between Hannaford and Bogdonovich’s character and Hannaford’s appearance with a teenage girl all have new meanings after seeing Neville’s film.
Through a series of interviews from people who were there as well as some rare behind the scenes footage of the brilliant filmmaker and Paul Masson wine enthusiast himself, Neville goes pretty deeply into Welles’ psyche during this tumultuous process. Welles has very much lived out the legacy of a renaissance painter who is more appreciated now that during his lifetime. He remains a cautionary martyr for anyone who think’s they’re going to get away with making a creative, original, daring, different movie in the Hollywood studio system and not get stabbed in the back by the suits, have control wrestled from you and chased out of town on a rail. It’s why I’ve rolled my eyes lately as women have complained about female directors “not given a chance to direct” certain big movies. Orson Welles and Preston Sturges made some of the best movies of all time and even they weren’t given a chance to direct afterward. The Hollywood monster chews people up and spits them out, not because it’s so tough but because it’s a mismanaged business.
Dead goes behind the scenes to show how truly chaotic it was to make Wind over the near decade it was being made, including shooting it for 3 years around not having an actor in the lead role, Welles hiring and then replacing comedian Rich Little in the role that would later go to Bogdanovich and the behind the scenes ups and downs in the friendships between Welles, Bogdanovich and Huston. Orson Welles made a satirical enigma with The Other Side of the Wind and Neville’s documentary plays like it’s Rosetta Stone, though I would advise to see Wind first and let it stand on it’s own.
It’s not the craziest Hollywood story you’ll ever hear, it’s not Lost Soul or anything involving Marlon Brando. Nobody climbs up in a tree and stays there for 3 days or has a heart attack on set. The real joy and value of the film is not in the wild stuff, it’s in getting to hear from Orson Welles again. What his inspirations were for Other Side of the Wind, what he thought of Hollywood and himself. For a guy who is so often seen as a Hollywood martyr, who was cursed by making a masterpiece very young, held to impossible standards and stabbed in the back by studios, getting to see footage of Welles late in life laughing and joking around put a big dumb smile on my face. It’s wonderful.