Morgan Neville‘s "They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead," which will play next week at Alice Tully Hall as part of the New York Film festival, is more than just about the making of Orson Welles‘ "The Other Side of the Wind," his final film which will, after being touted for the better part of three decades as the 'greatest film never released,' finally be in theaters later this fall via Netflix.
Neville's narrative in 'Dead' focuses on Welles' final few decades on earth. The documentary is an attempt to dissect Welles' controversial and mysterious personality and to explain the experimental style in which Welles' worked between 1970-1990.
Neville’s 98-minute doc is a cinephile's wet-dream and has its focus concentrated on the incalculable amount of Welles' projects which fell apart and were never completed. There's a sort of backhanded message in this film that maybe, just maybe, the legendary director never intended to finish these projects in the first place and that he was just experimenting, trying to find something out of nothing or, as Welles says, finding the "happy accidents," the stuff that happens without intention as you shoot a film.
By trying to complete 'Other Side' Welles protege and director Peter Bogdanovich seems to be basically grabbing at straws, handicapped by Welles' improvisational style of filmmaking and editing. The upcoming released version of "The Other Side of the Wind" will likely never, not even close, come to be the version Welles' intended to be shown, even if, at some point in this doc, Bogdanovich reveals Welles' desire for his protege to continue on with the editing if anything were to happen to him.
A few years before embarking on 'Other Side,' Welles had made "The Immortal Story," a 60-minute made-for-French-TV oddity. Before that, he was coming off the trifecta of "Touch of Evil," "The Trial," and "Chimes at Midnight." At this phase in his career, Welles decided to radicalize himself and push the boundaries a little more. A sort of radical, Godard-ian phase for him. Which could explain why so many failed and/or unfinished projects resulted post "Chimes of Midnight." Wells wanted to reinvent cinema, but he was not sure how and he wasn't sure who would give him the funding for such experimental ventures. He did manage to squeeze a film out of this radical phase, his last one, in fact, 1974's "F For Fake.""The Other Side of the Wind" was supposed to be the other.
Welles claimed 'Other Side' was not autobiographical, but that was clearly not true. He never really wanted any of his films to have a personal connection to his pesonal life, but 'Other Side' is quite obviously about his career. The film covers the 70th birthday party of movie director Jake Hannaford (John Huston), who is struggling to make a commercial comeback. It opens with Hannaford's death just after the party, and mostly focuses on the night before his death. We also see extracts of Hannaford's daring new film-within-a-film, The Other Side of the Wind."
Welles intended for the film to be a cynical portrait of Hollywood in the 1970s, parodying the passing of the studio system, but also mocking successful European directors such as Antonioni and Bergman. We watch as Welles shoots in a variety of different styles—color, black-and-white, still photography, 8mm, 16mm and 35mm film, all rapidly intercut together. A sort of collage that Welles intended as a game-changing concept for filmmaking. It's exhilarating footage watching Welles, still excited and high on cinema, trying to bend the laws of what cinema could be.
Welles was a perfectionist, and, at some point in the footage shown, he screams "Take 21." There's incredible footage of Huston, a legend on his own right, as he shoots his role on and off during the span of a decade, he ends up making a comeback during those years by directing the Oscar-winning "The Man Who Would Be King." He and Welles were good friends that stayed in touch until the very end, even as Welles was slowly creeping into a hermit habitat, broke and trying desperately to complete the film in an extra room at Bogdanovich's Hollywood mansion, where Bogs lives with then wife Candace Bergen. An amusing anecdote, from Bergen herself, has the actress getting annoyed by Welles' presence and his constant requests for Fudgcicles to be in the fridge.
As he was editing 'Other Side' at the aforementioned house, Welles completed around 42 minutes of avant-garde editing, it is with that template that Bogdanovich and company tried to complete the film after Welles' passing in 1988.
Looming over Welles' career, like a nasty shadow, was the inevitable comparisons of every movie he would release post Citizen Kane," that, in essence was Welles' commercial downfall. He could never replicate 'Kane' for studio heads, nobody really has in movie history, so imagine Welles, having to deal with one-upping, what many consider to be the greatest movie ever made, his entire career. Kane was a handicap, but Welles’ largeness of spirit, his legend, his dissipating career, and the community of friends and colleagues that tried to help him complete his final statement is part of what makes Neville's documentary such an invaluable historical document.