Who knew Orson Welles would be having a major new release in 2018? The prolific director launched into cinema history once he made “Citizen Kane” in 1943 at the age of 24. From then on, his filmography has many that are loved by film aficionados. However, he became famous for moving from unfinished project to unfinished project. One such masterpiece, “The Other Side of the Wind,” was never finished and became the stuff of mythic proportions. Netflix made waves when it announced that it was able to complete and release Welles’ lost film. In addition, Netflix put together “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” a documentary that puts greater context to the making of this project. In many ways, this comes off better than Welles’ supposed masterpiece. It gives great context into the film business in the 70s and Welles’ struggle to find his place within it.
Exiled from Hollywood, Welles went to Europe where he found himself at home with the sensibilities of European filmmakers. In the 70s, Welles attempted to reemerge to the Hollywood scene with “The Other Side of the Wind,” thought to be his new masterpiece. His opus tells two stories. One chronicles a famous filmmaker struggling to wade through the Hollywood nonsense to make his opus. The other is the director’s actual opus, an American take on the French New Wave. However, life imitates art as Welles finds himself unable to assemble the finishing pieces of “The Other Side of the Wind.”
One of the most interesting things about “The Other Side of the Wind” is how it contextualizes itself within the Hollywood players of the 70s. Just as that film cast real-life celebrities, journalists and filmmakers, “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” interviews those same figures. From Dennis Hopper to Pauline Kael, those involved on set and in the industry gave a fantastic insight into the production.
Peter Bogdonovich proves to be the documentary’s best resource. He charts how his role in the film evolved in tandem with his career. A lifelong Welles fan, Bogdonovich illustrates for us what it was like to surpass your greatest career hero. Just as “The Last Picture Show” earned him accolades, Welles was struggling to finance his passions. It’s hard to think of “Citizen Kane” director Orson Welles as anything but a giant in the film industry. However, the documentary shows Welles struggle to fit into the Hollywood machine. He routinely signed up for cheap acting cameos and gigs to finance film projects that never saw the light of day. This image seems far from the young wunderkind image we typically associate with Orson Welles. These insights are where the documentary becomes most fascinating.
Director Morgan Neville has been having quite the year as a documentarian. It’s hard to think of two more different showbiz figures than Orson Welles and Mr. Rogers (the subject of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”). However, Neville manages to paint as comprehensive a portrait of Welles as he did with Rogers. He interweaves never-before-seen footage with interviews with fascinating tastemakers. This keeps the documentary interesting throughout, as it further adds to the portrait of Welles more so than the film.
Even those involved remain convinced that “The Other Side of the Wind” could be Welles’ best film. This reverence for the director often veers toward turning the film into a puff piece. Even more cynically, one could see the documentary as further promotion for Netflix’s release of “The Other Side of the Wind.” Through these lenses, the documentary seems superfluous. However, as an examination of the business of Hollywood, “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” lends some fascinating insight. How does an artist work with the business machine at hand? Perhaps, Welles was always meant to be an artist who was loved more once they were dead.