Me and Orson Welles

Me and Orson Welles

 

Orson Welles may have been a lot of things. Humble most likely was not one of them. Cocky; egotistical, more likely. But he was the man who made “Citizen Kane” at twenty-five years of age. And this twenty-five year old must certainly bow to that.

But in Richard Linklater’s film (Link made his first film at age thirty—the Austin based “Slackers”[no not the crap movie with Devon Sawa]) none of this has transpired yet. “Kane,” and Welles film career is still in the future. His groundbreaking “War of The Worlds” telecast also has not yet transpired. Nope, this is the Welles, who, at age twenty-two is about to put on Mercury Theatres first production: Welles lean and updated version of Shakespeare’s “Caesar.”

That the thirty-six year old Christian McKay portrays this twenty-two year old may say a lot about him, and men during that period of time (we all seem so much younger now); that McKay does it well, full of charm and charisma, may say a lot about him as an actor. His Welles may not be the cinematic hero that he will soon become, but he still is Orson with a Capital “O.” He is a man who is all too aware of its worth.

Which is a sign of things to come: one can easily see how the powers that be can soon grow tired of such a person, no matter how much we proclaim it “Genius.” We see an artist averse to compromise who hasn’t been made to, and hasn’t learned about picking and choosing battles. Any scholar of film history will know the troubled, checkered, and tragic fate of Welles as a filmmaker. From final cut, to out of the editing room.

Richard Linkater’s film clearly loves the man, but doesn’t turn him all nice and cute. It is very easy to hate this man. He is by turns cowardly, and always a bit of a braggart. But, McKay allows us to see that Orson Welles truly is a force. Here he is at twenty-two, so sure of himself. And he still has yet to prove it.

“Me and Orson Welles” takes place over the course of the week leading up to this inaugural Mercury Theatre production. The “Me” referred to is played by the seventeen year old kid who will charm his way to a role in the play. He is portrayed, rather well, by Zac Efrom. We know he is too young. We know he will get hurt. He does.

The movie is wonderful in that it is truly a charming time piece while still allowing it to be true. Claire Daine’s character has an agenda. She is going to stick through with it. Welles will succeed—his ego will get inflated.  You may not like all the characters, but you will be glad to hang out with them.

I have often admired Richard Linklater’s work. He’s the type of filmmaker who dips a bit here and there, and in my mind, he has failed (“Fast Food Nation”) and he has succeeded (The “Before…” series, for example) but he is interesting and unafraid and he loves people. His scripts often have a way with language, yet he is unafraid to take on others work. That is the case here, as he did not pen the script nor author the book. I would put this into his success category. It runs a bit long at times, but it never wears off the smile that it puts on your face.

And you get to meet old friends! Linklater and co have done some tremendous work with the casting. Along with a career-making performance by McKay, we have a spot on Joseph Cotton—his is perhaps the most joyous performance. Cotton is portrayed as a rather likeable, charming man. We can see that he has clear admiration for the man, and feels that Orson has what it takes to make him who he will become, but you can also see that he himself is a leading man, and his own identity. He appears to roam freer than any other character and might be the most honest and caring guide for Zac on his journey through the actor’s life (this may hint at his ability to roam freer career wise, as Cotton triumphed with and without Welles).

“Me and Orson Welles” is more than a period film, however. It is a film that lives in the moment. It is 1937 for the characters. They don’t even know that Welles will make “Citizen Kane” let alone that a movie is going to get made about this in 2009. They live in the present. Enjoy.

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