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Review: Orson Welles — madman or genius? Morgan Neville's documentary 'They'll Love Me When I'm Dead' lets you decide

Review: Orson Welles — madman or genius? Morgan Neville's documentary 'They'll Love Me When I'm Dead' lets you decide
Orson Wells, left, and Peter Bogdanovich from the documentary "They'll Love Me When I'm Dead." (Netflix)

Morgan Neville, director of this year’s affecting Mr. Rogers documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” has already found another worthy, if very different, subject in the equally penetrating “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead.”

Focusing on the last 15 years in the life of mercurial actor-director Orson Welles, the bulk of which was spent trying to complete his passion project, “The Other Side of the Wind,” the impeccably assembled production employs Neville’s virtuoso touch to provocative effect.

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Welles returned to the United States in 1970 after years of living and working in Europe, and his maverick sensibilities seemed to be perfectly keyed to a period when the traditional studio system was being supplanted by a bunch of young guys with beards.

Armed with a thinly veiled concept satirizing Hollywood’s filmmaking avant-garde but lacking an actual script — Welles would often say that “the greatest things in movies are divine accidents” — he corralled an oddball cast including girlfriend Oja Kodar, director John Huston, impressionist Rich Little (later replaced by Peter Bogdanovich) and Susan Strasberg in a savage send-up of critic Pauline Kael.

Just as a consortium of filmmakers sorted through fragments of material to finally complete the film 33 years after Welles’ 1985 death (the finished product also debuts on Netflix this weekend) Neville has masterfully cobbled together a treasure trove of on-set footage, TV and festival interview clips re-creating a highly vivid time and place.

Time will tell if “The Other Side of the Wind” will be regarded as a “divine accident” or Orson’s folly, but in the interim, Neville finds Welles fully inhabiting a richly upholstered, not altogether rare space nestled somewhere between genius and madness.

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‘They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 2, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on Netflix

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