I doubt the declaration “I love movies” will come as a shock to anyone. Over the last 20 years, I’ve spent the vast majority of my creative energies either making movies or writing about cinematic endeavors others have made. This fascination sometimes gets granular, especially when digging through the dirt of cinematic oddities and spectacular disasters. There are some movies that are famous for being failures, and filmmakers who become inspired by chronicling the catastrophe. There are a number of very watchable documentaries on streaming services that capture the rapture and wretchedness of some of Hollywood’s most famous failures.
Some wonderful lines can be drawn between all three documentaries I review this week. Collectively, the films take a peek behind the scenes at the work of a trio of filmmakers: Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich and Stanley Kubrick. Similarities run deep as each doc shows the lengths filmmakers are willing to go to produce relevant art and seek perfection that eludes most creators.
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead
Directed by Morgan Neville
The Other Side of the Wind
Directed by Orson Welles
Legendary filmmaker Orson Welles is known for his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane.” The film was his crowning accomplishment but also an albatross slung around his neck for the rest of his career. Its perfection cast a large, looming shadow over every movie he would direct thereafter. While he would make a number of excellent movies, “Citizen Kane” became the iconic monolith with which he would always be associated.
As filmmaking shifted to a more natural and gritty style, directors like Welles became well-respected antiques. Welles would spend the third act of his career desperate for relevance, culminating in a decade of being the engineer behind the train wreck called “The Other Side of the Wind.” “They’ll Love me When I’m Dead” is a documentary that tells the story of an aging, broke and difficult Welles trying to make a movie that would redefine his contributions to cinema, and the hapless saps that got caught up in his wake.
The film is a fascinating examination of Welles at his most interesting: desperate, drunk, barely clinging to his sanity. It’s a look at the dark side of fame, success, and the burden of being deemed “a genius,” and the subsequent pressure of trying to live up to that impossibly high standard.
The documentary is made more interesting by pairing it with the movie that inspired it, “The Other Side of the Wind,” which isn’t as nearly as good. In fact, it’s a batshit crazy mess that almost begs to be watched in a non-sober state. The documentary is immersive and troubling, and showcases a sad hubris that makes Welles a tragic presence.
One Day Since Yesterday
Directed by Bill Teck
Speaking of tragic presence, one of Welles’ closest friends in the later stages of his career was filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich helped the aging icon financially as he tried to navigate his comeback. A fascinating filmmaking figure in his own right, Bogdanovich was the most popular movie director in American for a short period in the ’70s. He became a household name and charmed his way into guest-hosting for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
His early successes made way for crippling disappointments. By the end of the 1970s, he had gone from Hollywood poster boy to an angry washout. Bogdanovich decided he no longer wanted to play by the rules of the entertainment industry and independently produced a new film, “They All Laughed”—a light, frothy romantic comedy.
“One Day Since Yesterday” chronicles Bogdanovich’s career, as well as the project that ultimately diminished his reputation in Hollywood. Much like “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” the documentary weaves back and forth between celebrating Bogdanovich as an artist and the height of his haughtiness. And like “The Other Side of the Wind,” what was meant to be a comeback ends up being a multi-faceted tragedy that ends Bogdanovich’s influence as an auteur.
I’ve watched this documentary twice, each time amazed by Bogdanovich’s meteoric rise and fall. Though revered by the public, he was ultimately marginalized and is rarely discussed among his peers that emerged from the same era. After watching “One Day Since Yesterday,” it’s clear why.
Directed by Tony Zierra
“Filmworker” is a different kind of documentary, but one that shares some similarities to “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead.”
Leon Vitali was a successful British actor who was starting to get the attention and recognition performers crave. After being cast in Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon,” Vitali abandoned his acting goals and became the iconic filmmaker’s right-hand man. The famously obsessive and prickly Kubrick and Vitali developed a personal and artistic relationship that defies convention.
The fact that Vitali was willing to give up his own goals to help serve Kubrick’s cinematic vision is both beautiful and baffling. Welles and Bogdanovich were very comfortable using others to help accomplish their artistic pursuits. “Filmworker” tells the story of a man willing to be used in order to facilitate the obsessive-compulsive whims of a gifted yet troubled cinematic legend.