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They'll Love Me When I'm Dead

Great filmmakers often seem to be left with a final, unfinished film that becomes a thing of legend. David Lean's “Nostromo” never saw the light of day. Kubrick's “A.I.” eventually became Spielberg’s film, but surely it was softened by his patented, longing warmth of home and family that never even crept into Stanley’s head.

Netflix’s documentary THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD shares Orson Welles 15 year quest to bring his final film to reality. His opus “The Other Side of the Wind” is glimpsed in long sequences and in-depth, behind-the-scenes looks at the filming.

Oddities abound.

70’s comedian/impressionist Rich Little is cast in the lead dramatic role, buckling under the pressure of Welles vision. John Huston floats through years of filming, seeming mostly to enjoy drinking with his old pal Orson.

Director Peter Bogdonovich tells tales of growing close to Welles for many years as a huge admirer of “Citizen Kane”. He also brings a film historian’s perspective to Welles later works that are less appreciated, but no less ground-breaking than “Kane” which still stands as one of the top ten films ever made.

Welles himself remains a mystery throughout. He takes lesser roles in Muppet movies to make cash to fund his film. He does cheap wine commercials for a buck to pay his cast.

By the time he has the film nearing completion, the final negative gets caught up in the Iranian revolution due to the Shah having funded some of the movie. It’s just one in a long series of events that seem to keep Welles from ever realizing his vision.

Welles does have a self-destructive streak, alienating his key supporters with poorly timed public criticism, derailing the film into sexual interludes Welles seems to be inserting into the film merely to show off his young, often nude muse Oja Kodar. She’s undeniably beautiful with a hint of danger and the scenes seem to push the limits of sexuality on film, even in the much less puritanical 70’s.

I’m a huge fan of Citizen Kane and its stunning place in history as Welles first film. It was interesting to see this documentary the same month as David Fincher’s 2020 film “Mank” about Kane’s legendary screenwriter.

Kane’s place in film history is established and undeniable. It was sad watching THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD to realize that we would never see Welles final version of his last film.

It does appear that some version of it premiered on Netflix, so I’ll be fascinated to watch it and learn more about it. Was it finalized after his death, or is it truly Welles vision?

If nothing else, ‘Mank” and this doc have inspired me to see more of Welles films in the year ahead.

This documentary is loaded with archive footage and enough behind the scenes of the crew filming in Carefree, Arizona to keep any Welles buff engaged. I’ll give it a B.

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