Nov 8, 2018
Welcome back to Documentary Thursdays! We’re back with the second part of a two-episode series, the first being the subject of today’s documentary, “The Other Side of the Wind” (Episode #310). If you haven’t yet heard that episode, go give it a listen, then come back here. For another film from director Morgan Neville, definitely check out my favorite documentary of the year, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (Episode #193). And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com or reach out over social media.
Today’s movie is “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” (2018), the Netflix Original documentary directed by Morgan Neville. The documentary follows the last fifteen years of Orson Welles’ life, when his star in Hollywood had waned, and he placed his hopes of a comeback on a film entitled “The Other Side of Wind”, financed as he could afford it, and left unviewed in a film vault for years. It also covers the recent restoration of the film, and a larger look at Welles in the history of film-making.
I think anyone who watches “The Other Side of the Wind” should watch this film afterwards, because it is an excellent companion piece that explores the interconnected nature between the film and Orson Welles’ life while envisioning and filming it. If you’ve seen the source material, then you’ll know that in order to even begin understanding the film, you need to have some context, and this film is as much about the hype surrounding the film as it is about the film itself. But, I mean, what else can you expect about a documentary about a director and a film shot as a no-holds-barred documentary-style film about an aging director trying to make a comeback film, which is screened even though its unfinished within the movie, and on the last day of said director’s life?
It’s a unique film that could only be made by someone like Orson Welles, and I think he knew that when he began envisioning what would become “The Other Side of the Wind”. It’s a suspicion that’s confirmed by the folks interviewed for today’s documentary, as they could see the obvious parallels between Hannaford and Welles, and no matter how much footage we also see of Welles claiming over and over it’s not meant to be autobiographical. However, I also want to caution folks about the dangers of watching this documentary before seeing the film, because while I think it does an above-average job in documenting the film and Orson Welles, it will also unintentionally influence your appreciation, maybe with critical insight, or maybe with the hindsight opinions of those involved, who have their own bitter feelings about the production.
Here’s another level of abstraction that may also blow your mind. I’m writing a review about a documentary about a documentary-style film about an autobiographical character showing a mockery of a film he didn’t want to make, and I’m supposed to spend my time looking at the style and structure of the documentary, not spend time talking about the actual content. I felt the documentary itself was above average, but couldn’t hold a candle to the source material, and despite excellent footage and interviews, and succeeding in telling the story, the documentary feels like it is just piggybacking on the larger story, which is perhaps better told by the film itself, once we have all the pieces, even if we could only get those pieces from a documentary like this. No matter how well-produced today’s documentary was going to be, it would never be the best possible documentary for “The Other Side of the Wind”, because the film actually ends up being its own documentary.
“They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” (2018) is a vital companion piece to “The Other Side of the Wind”, providing a lot of context missing after decades of the film being unavailable to the public. The documentary is well-composed and contains a lot of great footage, but it may also be intrusive for viewers still forming opinions about the source material. Fans of Orson Welles, or Morgan Neville, or “The Other Side of the Wind” in particular should definitely check out this film, but maybe watch the original film a few more times to solidify your own impressions before having them shaped by others.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
One Movie Punch: 8.2/10
“They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.