Sunday, 4 November 2018

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD


90. “My definition of a film director is the man who presides over accidents... Everywhere there are beautiful accidents. There’s a smell in the air, there’s a look that changes the whole resonance of what you expected.”



04/11/2018



If 2018 can be remembered for anything good, it is because two of the most extreme examples of film development hell finally saw release: “The Man Who Killed Don Quioxte,” directed by Terry Gilliam, and Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind,” released by Netflix thirty-three years after its creator’s death. Like Gilliam’s project, Welles’ film also has its behind-the-scenes documentary, daring to tell a more interesting story than the film itself.

“They’ll love me when I’m dead” may well be something Orson Welles said, but that was not true in the New Hollywood of the 1970s – the old one kicked him out for making uncommercial or downbeat films, leaving him to scrape together funds for his work in Europe by resorting to cameos and commercials. Welles would have the reputation of “Citizen Kane” loom over him for the forty-five years that followed its release, especially when the film students and scholars that rose up would lionise his craft as a cinematic auteur. He still couldn’t get his films made – the ones that did were the scholars, like Peter Bogdanovich and Steven Spielberg. The only option for Welles appeared to be to make a film not like an Orson Welles production, but by those that learned from them.


When it eventually appeared, “The Other Side of the Wind” could not be more of a film about Orson Welles unless it wrote that fact on a two-by-four and beat you over the head with it. It is about an old-time director, played by old-time director John Huston, who is making a film that attempts to evoke the vogue of atmospheric European productions by directors like Michelangelo Antonioni (and starring Oja Kodar, the film's co-writer and Welles' lover), while being followed around by journalists with tape records, forever asking about his life and is work, because there can be no difference between them. The film itself is wordless, arty, impenetrable, and unfinished, as the director ran out of funds, while the wrap-around documentary-like footage is exactly that – point-and-shoot, get as much footage as you can, and make sense of it later.

“They’ll Love Me When I Dead” is linked by Alan Cumming, who appears to be turning into James Mason, and while it is telling the story of a man that could never get his film finished due to circumstance, you get the feeling that Welles probably deserved it: the unplanned nature of the production, with the script constantly rewritten, is as chaotic as the outtakes show. The money was scraped together from various sources, and Welles would use an American Film Institute ceremony, held in 1975 in his honour, to unsuccessfully make a bid for funds to complete the project – the source of some other funds was a son-in-law of the Shah of Iran, which ultimately led to the film being impounded by the Ayatollah Kohmeni’s regime. Peter Bogdanovich, a defender of Welles’ reputation, later cast in the film as a confidante of Huston, later had Welles living out of his house for two years, filling his rooms with cigar smoke and Fudgsicles. The director of photography, Gary Graver, spent fifteen years answering to Welles every day, but was not paid by him, and resorted to camerawork on over a hundred porn films, most notably for the notorious Ed Wood, to make ends meet – Graver would later spend eighteen months carrying around Welles’ ashes in the boot of his car.


The documentary ends with a reminder of other Welles projects that went unfinished including, appropriately enough, a version of “Don Quixote,” as if to prove that anyone attempting to film that story must be quixotic in their own way. As much as Orson Welles left behind, his reputation means what was left behind will come to light: with “They’ll Love Me When I Dead” focusing squarely on Welles, we do not get the story of how it took until 2014 for the litigation around “The Other Side of the Wind” to finally end, and how it was eventually completed – that needs its own documentary. What we do get, however, is an idea of the Orson Welles that was drawn upon to finish the film, the Welles that put into the mouth of John Huston: “We can borrow from each other, but what we must never do is borrow from ourselves.”

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