You’re standing still in a Hall of Mirrors. Glancing around to your repeated self, the images bouncing off of one another endlessly, relentlessly. You keep looking out of the corner of your eye, in an attempt to see if the you behind the glass moved or twitched or blinked. To see if maybe there’s a chance that it’s someone else. This effect was used beautifully in one of the esteemed Hollywood directors, Orson Welles’ earlier films, “The Lady from Shanghai.” As, during the climax, the viewer struggles to follow the repeated images of both the mirrors and the layering of the images. All of the characters and the action blending together into one heap of shattered glass. Then the lights are turned back on, revealing to us the larger picture, and all the ways the glass fit together. The Netflix documentary, “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” released on Nov. 2, took that same concept and applied it to the final 15 years of Orson Welles’ life and the shooting of his greatest movie never released, his film “The Other Side of the Wind.”
“The Other Side of the Wind,” is in itself shot in this same, mirrored fashion. As Welles’ original vision was to shoot a movie within a movie, the script being separated into two semi-distinct parts. The first half a failed French-style art film, a spoof on the movies being shot at the time that were more focused on look and ambiance than substance. The second half taking a step backward to look behind the camera. A faux documentary film, focusing on the making of the first movie and, more specifically, the “Old Hollywood” director who made this film-within-a-film, played by John Huston, as he tries and fails to make a comeback. With all of the funding for his film falling apart and a betrayal by a younger, fresher director, played by young and fresh director Peter Bogdanovich, congealing into his final downfall.
But when we move back to the Netflix documentary, viewers see that the interviews of the cast and crew are unique in their own right and give us a different look at the shooting of the film that the archival footage of Wilde does not. The interviews are never shot at a straight angle. The camera is placed randomly, in ways where we can only see the interviewees chin, or their left hand, or just the one side of their face. This adds to the whole intentionally piece-meal feel of the documentary, but also creates this concept that the crew was just a mass of people that went along with whatever Orson Welles said since he was the artist and the only one who ever knew what was going on. Throughout production, Welles often rewrote script pages on a daily basis, shooting scenes out of order, even bringing in props that no one seemed to understand, including one day of shooting where life-size male dolls decorated the set.
But there’s another layer to the mirror image. There is an idea that this second part of the film, the story of an aging director trying just once more to make a successful picture and failing, was an autobiographical piece. Welles himself vehemently denied this claim through production and press interviews, but every member of the crew interviewed called, “Bullshit.” The whole film seemed to depict a real aspect of either Welles’ life or the lives of one of the film’s stars. Instead of seeing the two parts of, “The Other Side of the Wind,” we’re watching the documentary of the last 15 years of Welles’ life, while also seeing the production and all the pieces of his unfinished film put together.
But still, there was never a clear idea of what the final product would look like. Especially not before Nov. 2, when the final film was finally edited and released on Netflix after almost half a century. A breath of relief for most everyone involved, as though it took 15 years out of Welles life, it took 33 years after his death still, to finally get the film released. For years, especially during production, many of those closest to the filming (cast, crew and family members) believed that maybe Welles’ didn’t want to finish the film. They believed Welles’ story of the fading director meeting his end was just a bit too much like looking in one of those funhouse mirrors. He thought finishing the film would mean his death as well as the death of the titular character. Not everyone agreed, with others featured in the documentary denying the claim, calling it ridiculous, but, you can’t help but hear the Welles’ quote, “No story has a happy ending unless you stop telling it before it’s over” and start to piece things together for yourself.