They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is an exhausting and chaotic documentary that contains a few valuable insights, but ultimately fails to enlighten in the way it intends.
There’s a scene in They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, the chaotic and largely unenlightening new documentary from Morgan Neville, when Peter Bogdanovich says that Orson Welles would hate people to make assumptions about his character based solely on his films. And then this film, which tells the story of his final picture, The Other Side of the Wind, proceeds to do exactly that.
Bizarrely, The Other Side of the Wind, which Welles began shooting in 1970, has just been released on Netflix today. If you’re interested in it, better to simply watch it rather that endure They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, which has little to offer beyond the obvious and common thesis that Welles was a genius, and that his final film – even to those who worked on it, and even, perhaps, to Welles – was an inscrutable outgrowth of his unknowable artistic brilliance.
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead would have been more effective had it tried to examine that brilliance rather than reinforce it through second-hand accounts of the man and his work. This film’s understanding of art and artists is limited to how others perceive them, and as such it wheels out an exhausting parade of contributors who aren’t immediately identified, and are therefore swept up in the picture’s chaotic, schizophrenic energy.
What is of obvious value are the moments which show Welles at work and hint at his manic creative process, although these too are largely swallowed by the deluge of reiterative viewpoints that surround them. One never really gets a sense of why the Hollywood culture was so hostile to Welles, or precisely what it was about him that his antagonists found so detestable and alienating. The figure of the great American director remains frustratingly elusive; a spectre floating through the background of many lives, but leaving little behind except indelible, outsized footprints.