Me and Orson Welles - Delightful Celebration of the Arts

                            Orson Welles -- the most significant artist to take the media as his medium -- is best known for his 1941 film, "Citizen Kane" -- considered by many as the pinnacle of motion-picture accomplishment and also known for his career difficulties and financial woes. Before all these, Welles towered over the world of stage plays. His 1937 triumphant Broadway debut was the black-shirt version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which echoed the rise of totalitarian regimes in Italy and Germany. Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles" (2008), based on the semi-fictional novel by Robert Kaplow, is set in New York City around the time of the opening of Welles' Mercury Theater.

                           When a actor portrays a real-life famous person, viewers usually have to make a mental adjustment. It takes a few minutes to get onto the actor's wavelength and enter into that character. But the British screen actor Christian McKay as Orson Welles moves beyond an impersonation into a full performance. We can look through the generosity, insecurity and the cruelty beyond Welles’ godlike oration.

         Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) is an ambitious, brash and naive New Jersey high school kid with Broadway dreams in his eyes. He is blessed with luck to stumble across Welles' Mercury Theatre as they’re preparing the modern-dress production of “Julius Caesar.’’ Richard was literally picked form the streets by Welles (Christian McKay) to play the minor role of Lucius -- who sings a lullaby to Brutus at the end of the play. He observes the behind-the-scenes goings-on at the theater and also comes across two famous actors  Joseph Cotton (James Tupper) and George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin).

                 Richard is also attracted towards production assistant Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), a conspicuously smart and ambitious woman who sees her current job as a stepping stone to another with Hollywood producer David O. Selznick. As the play develops, he learns something about performing and human nature—or at least about the nature of Orson Welles.

                 Director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise , Dazed and Confused, School of Rock) directs the film with his characteristic feeling for the particulars and nuances of human interaction and sensitivity toward youthful coming of age. The fictional characters and  invented portions makes up for a decent backstage drama and the movie really comes to life towards the end, when Linklater and his company recreate Welles’ Caesar. Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo's script makes the film more entertaining and lovers of cinema are bestowed with many esoteric details.

                  Linklater over many other Welles' films in one important aspect: the casting of Christian McKay as Welles. McKay perfectly captures his mannerisms, his pomposity and his patronizing manner. He radiates the charisma that made people stick with Welles no matter how ruthless he could be: stops every so often to improvise lyrical speeches, escapes out of crises by leaving human wreckage in his wake and pulls great art out of himself like a magician producing a bird from nowhere. There are various moments in the film, where you might feel that you had stumbled onto some remarkable found documentary of Welles in action. It is hard to picture Hannibal Lecter without remembering Anthony Hopkins, similarly "Me and Orson Welles" would be unthinkable as a film without McKay.

                  Efron is solid and actually acquits himself well as Richard. Efron's character in the movie is fictional, which provides an adequate frame for a much more interesting portrait of Welles and his era. The ending is a bit soft, which is burdened by an unnecessary subplot featuring Zoe Kazan as an aspiring writer. But that's just one minor flaw.

                   "Me and Orson Welles" is a movie primarily designed for those who are intrigued by theater or curious about Welles. Its potential viewers is restricted but those who fall under that demographic will be clearly impressed. If you are movie-lover, don't miss this exhilarating backstage drama about a man whose talent was almost as big as his ego.


Me and Orson Welles - IMDb 


Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Have only read it cursorily... Thanks for the recommendation, Arun... will check it out soon and be back for more :-)

Maliny said...

would like to watch it one day . . thanks for the account :)

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Haven't watched it yet. Will watch soon and get back to you

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