2018, Movies

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018, Morgan Neville)

This is a super arty, slightly hagiographic documentary about The Other Side of the Wind, a film Orson Welles never released but apparently completed. If I knew, I had forgotten that the film was released with this documentary. (I have not yet watched the movie.)

I know I regularly complain (or at least note) when documentaries are conventionally filmed. For the most part, I note it either as a downside or, at least, a fact that does not make the film standout. But very few documentaries I see are unconventional films and, well, maybe that’s actually a good thing.

This is the artiest documentary I’ve seen in a long time and it’s hard not to find it pretentious even though I mostly understand why the overall decision was made (if I don’t understand the individual choices all the time). This is a movie about filmmaking, so it should be a film. Moreover, it’s about Orson Welles, considered by some to be one of the great American film auteurs, so, again, it should be a film.

But the choices are often bizarre, with the most annoying one being the decision to shoot the talking heads from all angles while, at the same time, failing to identify them by name. It’s obvious when Bogdanovich and Rich Little are talking. It’s obvious when Shepherd is talking because they shoot her straight on.

But the crew, other cast and some critics…well, not only do I not know these people by name, I can’t memorize their, um, necks, well enough to remember who is who. As for the voices, it’s only really Welles’ muse who has a voice that stands out entirely so you know she’s talking. Everyone else (aside from Bogdanovich, whose voice I know well) is hard to keep track of. (There seems to be an assumption here, too, that we’re read all about these people on the internet.)

I also don’t love the narration and the weird setup with Cumming. There’s likely some kind of statement here about the nature of narrative and telling a story about a long-dead filmmaker’s unreleased film that was making various statements about narrative but I’m not sure why it’s really necessary. It’s clear from the interviewees that nobody remembers the shoot the same. The film doesn’t need the additional artifice, in my mind.

Though some are critical of Welles the interviewees can get hagiographic so the film does too. For example, one person says Chimes of Midnight is a perfect film. I’ve seen Chimes of Midnight and I can tell you it is not. There’s a fair amount of that stuff (though less glaringly positive) about Welles in general and not enough of “maybe Welles was exiled for X and Y.”

And this hagiography extends to the subject of the film, which I have never seen. (Should have watched it first, I know.) By the description of the movie in this documentary, and by the IMDB rating, I have a hard time imagining this film is a masterpiece. But a few of the interviewees seem to think so. (Because it’s Orson Welles, so it has to be, right?)

It’s still interesting, especially if you like documentaries about filmmaking or the creative process. And I laughed out loud a few times. And it’s certainly not a boring film, as film. (That’s the one thing you can be sure of, there are some aggressively weird artistic decisions in this documentary.)

I should have watched his movie first. But I’m not sure I would have liked this more had I done so.

6/10

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