They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead premiered on Netflix back in 2018 and was directed by Morgan Neville. This documentary centered on The Other Side of the Wind’s production, the final unrelated film by Orson Welles. With narration provided by Alam Cumming, Neville weaves the tale of Welles’s final 15 years and the struggle he endured to get his work off the ground.
As someone who not only loves movies as a visual art form but also finds the behind-the-scenes details fascinating, the subject matter of this documentary is particularly made for me. For any cinephile that throws themselves in the world of western filmmaking, it is particularly impossible to escape even a mention of the name Orson Welles. I could just say he directed Citizen Kane and leave it at that. However, that wouldn’t just barely scratch the surface of how much he’s impacted the Hollywood landscape.
What makes this documentary so interesting is that it provides a real glimpse into the filmmaker’s type that Welles truly was. Somebody really seems like they wanted to push the boundaries of what his stories could be. Part of the intrigue about learning of The Other Side of the Wind was that film utilizes a film with a film narrative. It was clearly meant to be a satire of European filmmakers’ atmospheric approach in the 1970s and the torch’s passing in the American Hollywood landscape.
However, it also becomes evident that much of the film’s inspiration was brought out from Welles’s own personal history. There is much focus throughout They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is that despite the level of the frame he saw for himself with classics like Citizen Kane and his other early works, he struggled to match that standard, at least in the eyes of film studios with his later projects. Essentially to the point where is he is all but ousted from Hollywood.
And this leads me to what is my favorite part of the film. I really liked seeing that even somebody as high on the totem poles as Orson Welles is not invincible when it comes to the struggle of just trying to get a movie made. Especially with how he played such a crucial role in pioneering films as we know it, could you really expect anything else? Nothing is built in a day, and you really see how much Welles how to put in on the production side of things just so the movie could even just exist. It’s a nice reminder that despite his status, Welles is still a man. It’s hard to not feel some sort of sympathy by having to see him struggle so much with how chaotic things got behind the scenes.
That aside, it’s just really cool to have a glimpse where we can see a director just make a movie. And all of the planning and effort that goes into it. Through interviews with family members, cast and crew, you can really understand how much of a master of his craft Orson really was also. And at the same time, how much a film is created by the director and everyone on board with the project.
It’s apparent that through the visuals alone that this film is one big throwback to that classic era of Hollywood. From much of the interviews being done in black and white to exploring the arguable tragedy that comes with an era to the beginning of a new one, it clearly intended to pay tribute to Orson and, in some sense, his era of filmmaking. In particular, I’d also really enjoyed when they interslice dialogue of the interviewees alongside Orson as if they were also a conversation.
Knowing that The Other Side of the Wind was released in the same year as this documentary, the whole situation can be seen as a bittersweet victory. Welles would be long dead by the point his final film came out. Still, through the dedicated work of the people who wanted to bring his vision to life, it’s hard to be upset that such a brilliant director got to blessed the filmgoing experience as he would have wanted it one last time.
Documentaries seemed to be in this weird spot when it comes to suggesting them because a lot of it comes down to if you as an audience member find the subject matter interesting, to begin with. For cinephiles, this is a no-brainer to me. For everyone else, if you want a fun, well-crafted look at one of the cinematic legends, look nowhere else but here.