A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that They'll Love Me When I'm Dead is a 2018 documentary about the personal, creative, and financial challenges Orson Welles faced while making his unfinished final movie, The Other Side of the Wind. Brief nudity includes female breasts and buttocks. An extended erotic scene is shown and discussed at length: A woman in a moving car takes off her clothes and straddles the man in the passenger seat. There's a brief shot of a woman reaching her hand down her shorts, and brief footage of the pornographic films one of the cameramen worked on to make ends meet when not working with Welles: shots of two women passionately kissing in a shower, and a shot of a woman in short-shorts on a tennis court bending over. Profanity includes "f--k," and there's some marijuana smoking, including footage of Dennis Hopper stoned and talking in a semi-coherent manner. Welles is almost always shown smoking a cigar. Some drinking is seen.
What's the story?
THEY'LL LOVE ME WHEN I'M DEAD is a documentary about the making and unmaking of Orson Welles' unfinished final film: The Other Side of the Wind. Through interviews with those who were there and those who knew him best, and footage of the actual movie along with scenes from Welles' other finished and unfinished projects, the documentary shows the iconic film director trying to stage a comeback after being ostracized from Hollywood for so many years. Instead, Welles, his crew, and the actors faced an endless series of daunting challenges: chronic money shortages, actors leaving to do other projects or getting fired, and ultimately losing the rights to the film due to events outside of Welles' control, such as the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The documentary also provides an overview of Welles' mercurial career and his frayed relationship with younger director and Welles disciple Peter Bogdanovich.
Is it any good?
In the words of Orson Welles, "It's all in the editing." With They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, it's clear the filmmakers took this to heart. There's a chaos in the editing and the overall style of the documentary that seems intended to mirror the chaos that went into Welles' unfinished final film, The Other Side of the Wind, both in front of and behind the camera. The appreciation of this chaotic approach is, like taste in anything, entirely subjective. Those wanting a more straightforward story of what happened will find it disjointed and confusing; those who are in the spirit of the thing will find, once they get used to the stylistic shifts and ever-present editing, that this is a documentary that turns out to be much more informative than if it had been a straightforward presentation.
When processing the sheer totality of the information presented, it becomes obvious upon reflection that this documentary could not be filmed any other way. They'll Love Me When I'm Dead manages to tell the story of how a movie without a conventional script and years of false starts and money problems didn't end up getting made, as much as Welles wanted it to be his swan song masterpiece, but it does more than that. It places The Other Side of the Wind in the context of Welles' life and work before and after -- from Citizen Kane to his battles with and exile from Hollywood to his TV appearances as more of a pop-culture oddity rather than one of America's greatest auteurs. It also shows the mercurial relationship he had with Peter Bogdanovich, a friend and disciple of Welles whose meteoric rise as a film director happened while Welles struggled, and the great lengths cinematographers like Gary Graver went to continue trying to bring Welles' vision to life as the years went on. Now, decades later, Netflix has released a posthumous version of The Other Side of the Wind, and this documentary is an engaging companion to the movie, and a good indication of what to expect from it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about documentaries about making movies. How does They'll Love Me When I'm Dead compare to other movies and shows centered on the "behind the scenes" story of the making of a movie?
How was the chaotic style of the documentary intended to mirror the chaos that went into the making of the movie, as well as the on-screen chaos? Did this approach work, or did it interfere with learning about what happened?
How did the documentary balance the making of The Other Side of the Wind with the broader context of the life of Orson Welles?
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