Skip to main content

It is the greatest movie never released, you know.

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead
(2018)

(SPOILERS) They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, Morgan Neville's documentary on the making of Orson Welles' long-gestating The Other Side of the Wind, is much more interesting than the finally finished article itself, but to be fair to Welles, he foresaw as much as a possibility. Welles' semi-improvised faux-doc approach may not seem nearly as innovative nearly fifty years on – indeed, in the intervening period there's a slew of baggage of boundary-blurring works, mockumentaries and the whole found footage genre – but he was striving for something different, even if that "different" was a reaction to the hole he'd dug himself in terms of bankability. On the evidence of the completed film, he never quite found the necessary rhythm or mode, but the struggle to achieve it, as told here, is fascinating.


Neville was perhaps conscious of the irony that what he was putting together had more of a hook than the film under scrutiny, since at the end of They'll Love Me he offers footage of Welles seemingly quite open to turning his project on its head: "Supposing, during the course of the picture, that it turns out that it's more interesting hearing the actors and myself talk about it than making the picture. That will be the picture". That, give or take, is what we get from Neville, and if we can imagine the additional flourish Welles might have provided – Neville is clearly inspired by F for Fake in terms of playful style, and quotes from it repeatedly in footage used – this bearer of the torch is no slouch.


Welles' initial inspiration is covered, and how he was oft quoted as saying his definition of a filmmaker is "the man who presides over happy accidents"; his plan for Wind was "You know, we’re going to go fishing for accidents. Which I think can be very exciting". But the problem with this is trying to create lightning in a bottle; if you go looking for it expressly, it can prove elusive. And if you spend all your time on the icing, you inevitably won't pay enough attention to the cake itself. It's noted that the director was "permanently traumatised" by the response to A Touch of Evil, and that he needed a box office hit if he was going to garner any financing for his projects. But Wind was never going to be a vehicle friendly to such suitors; indeed, one can see it having the opposite effect.


Welles objected to the idea that Huston's Hannaford was a thinly veiled version of himself (even though he was actively considering playing him), although by the time he was touting for funding at the AFI in the mid-'80s he was no longer hiding the parallels. Bogdanovich commented "He hated that. He didn’t want to be analysed through his films". Yet the plot engine had started with his relationship with Bogdanovich and the idea of the betrayal of friendship between an older and younger director; as is noted, when the idea was first mooted, the wunderkind director was merely an awestruck kid. By the time he replaced Rich Little as Brooks Otterlake, he was at the top of a meteoric rise to success. The Bogdanovich relationship is one of two immensely significant ones to the doc, charting how it bloomed and inevitably petered out as Welles blew through his ardent supporter's goodwill, although it's implied Bogdanovich fulfilled Welles' request to ensure the film was completed if anything happened to him. 


It's noted that while Welles could be a charm machine, hence getting so many devotees to do so many things for him, he also thrived on friction and could be quite cruel, in particular to Bodganovich, who was ostensibly doing so much for him. There's Wind's Cathy Lucas character, "a dreadful actress like Cybill" Shepherd, whom Bogdanovich had made a star and was seeing at the time. Shepherd recounts how Wells was supposed to stay at Bogdanovich's Beverly Hills house for two to three weeks but he stayed on and off for three years ("It was a very large house and he ate a lot"); the doc comes back round to Bogdanovich's feeling of betrayal at the end, with illustrative clips of Burt Reynolds and Welles mocking the director and the sense that Orson allowed Wind to become a self-fulfilling prophecy; "Orson Welles did everything he could to alienate as many people as possible". The picture may have been a "satire of excessive masculinity", but Welles was not immune from being a practitioner in his own way. He was certainly the alpha male in the relationship.


Then there's cinematographer Gary Graver, devoted to the director for a decade and a half, such that when he died he didn’t know what to do with himself. During his extended service, he'd survive by taking jobs directing porn (he was cited as being the only cinematographer who worked for both Ed Wood and Orson), and was hospitalised several times due to exhaustion, but always returned for more. 


Other anecdotes include the influence of Oja Kodar, Welles' girlfriend and pulchritudinous focus of the movie within movie. It’s noted that Welles considered explicit sexuality distracting from the art and the narrative. "He called himself prudish. And he didn't think films needed nudity" says Bogdanovich, while Kodar comments "I think the thing I contributed to his creativity was the eroticism". Another interviewee suggests that "The film is an exploration of Orson's desire"; Welles insisted the movie within movie wasn't him stylistically or in terms of content (Kodar wrote it) any more than the surrounding "doc" was his style, but Kodar clearly had a profound effect on his attitudes.


Rich Little: I'm not sure he knew where his movie was going and, um, I'm not sure anybody did actually.

Danny Huston's there to recount his father’s relationship with Welles ("They were brothers") but John Huston had no idea what the movie was about ("It's about a miserable prick" he was told). Famous friends that they were, Orson's line was that Huston was willing to sell out (with his one for them, one for me approach). Yet for all Orson’s veneer of superiority, it was Huston who disappeared during filming to make a late-period masterpiece in The Man Who Would Be King.


And then there are the torturous financing issues, telling of Welles sneaking onto studio backlots to steal footage, Andres Gomez (allegedly) disappearing with funds, and the Iranian financing that turned out to be a millstone when the revolution happened and the film reels ended up locked in a vault by decree of the French court. When it came time for his AFI achievement award, it's noted "He was practically begging for money" but "nobody gave him any". 


Various voices all rigorously deny the idea that Welles didn't want The Other Side of the Wind finished, and it does seem rather a stretch that he'd lie under oath to try to resecure it if he preferred it incomplete. How long he would have spent honing it if he had got back is another matter, though. To return to the development mooted by Welles in the second paragraph, at one point he said "Maybe it isn't even the picture. Maybe it's just talking about making the picture". Neville's film suggests that maybe it is just that.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lieutenant, you run this station like chicken night in Turkey.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) (SPOILERS) You can’t read a review of Assault on Precinct 13 with stumbling over references to its indebtedness – mostly to Howard Hawks – and that was a preface for me when I first caught it on Season Three of BBC2’s Moviedrome (I later picked up the 4Front VHS). In Precinct 13 ’s case, it can feel almost like an attempt to undercut it, to suggest it isn’t quite that original, actually, because: look. On the other hand, John Carpenter was entirely upfront about his influences (not least Hawks), and that he originally envisaged it as an outright siege western (rather than an, you know, urban one). There are times when influences can truly bog a movie down, if it doesn’t have enough going for it in its own right. That’s never the case with Assault on Precinct 13 . Halloween may have sparked Carpenter’s fame and maximised his opportunities, but it’s this picture that really evidences his style, his potential and his masterful facility with music.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

He must have eaten a whole rhino horn!

Fierce Creatures (1997) (SPOILERS) “ I wouldn’t have married Alyce Faye Eicheberger and I wouldn’t have made Fierce Creatures.” So said John Cleese , when industrial-sized, now-ex gourmand Michael Winner, of Winner’s Dinners , Death Wish II and You Must Be Joking! fame (one of those is a legitimate treasure, but only one) asked him what he would do differently if he could live his life again. One of the regrets identified in the response being Cleese’s one-time wife (one-time of two other one-time wives, with the present one mercifully, for John’s sake, ongoing) and the other being the much-anticipated Death Fish II , the sequel to monster hit A Fish Called Wanda. Wanda was a movie that proved all Cleese’s meticulous, focus-group-tested honing and analysis of comedy was justified. Fierce Creatures proved the reverse.

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

Ours is the richest banking house in Europe, and we’re still being kicked.

The House of Rothschild (1934) (SPOILERS) Fox’s Rothschild family propaganda pic does a pretty good job presenting the clan as poor, maligned, oppressed Jews who fought back in the only way available to them: making money, lots of lovely money! Indeed, it occurred to me watching The House of Rothschild , that for all its inclusion of a rotter of a Nazi stand-in (played by Boris Karloff), Hitler must have just loved the movie, as it’s essentially paying the family the compliment of being very very good at doing their very best to make money from everyone left, right and centre. It’s thus unsurprising to learn that a scene was used in the anti-Semitic (you might guess as much from the title) The Eternal Jew .

No, I ain’t a good man. I ain’t the worst either.

A Perfect World (1993) (SPOILERS) It’s easy to assume, retrospectively, that Clint’s career renaissance continued uninterrupted from Unforgiven to, pretty much, now, with his workhorse output ensuring he was never more than a movie away from another success. The nineties weren’t such a sure thing, though. Follow-up In the Line of Fire , a (by then) very rare actor-for-hire gig, made him seem like a new-found sexagenarian box office draw, having last mustered a dependably keen audience response as far back as 1986 and Heartbreak Ridge . But at home, at least, only The Bridges of Madison County – which he took over as director at a late stage, having already agreed to star – and the not-inexpensive Space Cowboys really scored before his real feted streak began with Mystic River. However, there was another movie in there that did strong business. Just not in the US: A Perfect World .