Film Club: Me and Orson Welles
Christian McKay Channels Welles
Friday, January 1, 2010
Credit: Freestyle Releasing
Film critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks discuss Me and Orson Welles on the KPBS Film Club of the Air.
My apologies for letting "Me and Orson Welles" (still playing at Landmark's La Jolla Village Cinemas) slip through without a review when it opened. Here's our discussion from the KPBS Film Club of the Air.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed "Me and Orson Welles" and applaud Christian McKay's performance, I urge you to check out Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" for one splendid, "imagined" scene between Wood and Welles. I think that brief scene says more about Welles' career and genius than this new one.
DOUG MYRLAND: These Days in San Diego. I’m Doug Myrland, in for Maureen Cavanaugh. We’ve got Scott Marks and Beth Accomando. We’re talking about films on the Film Club of the Air. The next movie we want to talk about is “Me and Orson Welles.” So in this film, Disney heartthrob Zac Efron plays an aspiring young actor cast in a 1937 stage production of “Julius Caesar,” directed by Orson Welles. Christian McKay plays the brilliant, volatile Welles. Claire Danes plays an older woman love interest in this coming of age story set in the world of theatre. And I want to start off by saying this movie reminded me a lot of an old film called “My Favorite Year.”
SCOTT MARKS: Fair enough.
MYRLAND: And in a good way. I don’t mean that…
BETH ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.
MYRLAND: …as a – But a very, I think, a nice – When this movie goes to DVD, a nice Netflix evening would be “My Favorite Year” and “Me and Orson Welles.”
MARKS: But see “Me and Orson Welles” on the screen first. Yeah, I know what you’re saying if you want to do the double bill but I think the production design on this film, it’s 1937, the period recreation is flawless. It is gorgeous to look at.
MYRLAND: And I think a nice comparison with “A Single Man,” another period film, but this film actually, I think, goes a step farther. It has more verisimilitude to ’37 than “A Single Man” even has to 1962.
MARKS: It’s not quite as stylized, yeah.
MYRLAND: This movie is wide open. I mean, it’s got a lot of outdoor scenes. It really captures that 1937 atmosphere, I think.
MYRLAND: So I don’t think we can talk about this film without talking about the really spooky recreation of Welles that Christian McKay does. And, again, I mean spooky in a good way but it’s not just a performance with some similarities to Welles. It’s a spot on imitation, wouldn’t you say?
MARKS: I take exception to imitation because that, to me, implies Frank Gorshin and Rich Little. This – But you said it initially. This is a performance. And I think this guy carries this movie. He is so good, and he’s also a Welles scholar. He started out doing a show far off Broadway called “Rosebud,” that was designed just for him. And he did a lot of research into Orson Welles and they wrote the book “Me and Orson Welles.” Richard Linkletter, the director of the film, saw the show, that’s where he found McKay, and that’s how he got this part. Now my big fear is, is that towards the end of his life he doesn’t put on 400 pounds and start doing bad wine commercials and “Necromancy” or Dean Martin roasts. But I talked to him, the guy is just a delight. And he is so good in this role.
MARKS: This is such a wonderful performance. A recreation, I’ll give you that but I think it’s more than just a guy getting up there and doing an impression.
ACCOMANDO: Well, because also you don’t – you’re not consciously watching it and going, oh, wow, he’s really doing a good job of being Orson Welles. He gets into that performance and he totally – you totally buy into it. And I think that’s what makes it good, is you’re not consciously thinking, oh, I’m watching somebody impersonate Orson Welles.
MARKS: And he looks so much like him…
MARKS: …that it helps. I mean, he looks exactly like a young Orson Welles even though I think he was ten years older in real life than the age Welles was when the film takes place. He has the baby face, and the voice is – I think was the hardest thing for him to recreate and he’s got that down pat. So it helps that you know a little bit about Orson Welles to see this film. It all takes place prior to “Citizen Kane.” This is 1937, “Kane” was ’41. And it’s just about Welles trying to put on the Mercury Theatre’s production of “Julius Caesar” in modern day…
ACCOMANDO: But I don’t think you have to know that much about him to enjoy the film, Welles, because, I mean, I think what’s interesting is that this is him at a very early point in his career and you just get a sense of what his creative process was like and what working for him was like. And even if you don’t know much about him except for maybe the fact that he directed “Citizen Kane,” you still can get a lot of enjoyment out of watching his character go through that.
MYRLAND: You also don’t have to really know the play “Julius Caesar.” I think that the…
MYRLAND: …they do a skillful job of introducing you to some of the elements of the play as the movie goes on and…
ACCOMANDO: Because what’s interesting is seeing how he decides to put this Shakespeare play onstage and for the time period that it was, doing something in modern dress like that and doing some of the stage direction that he did was very innovative and I think seeing that, whether or not you know who Orson Welles is, is still fascinating to watch.
MARKS: And it might be better if you don’t know who Zac Efron is because then you won’t bring all the Disney preconceived notions in there because I thought he was very, very good.
MYRLAND: And he really is the lead character in the film, too.
MYRLAND: We should point out, we’ve been talking about Christian McKay and all the other elements but Zac Efron…
ACCOMANDO: See, and I…
MYRLAND: …has the lead and has the most dialogue.
ACCOMANDO: …and I think that’s the problem I had with the – I enjoyed it and I thought that the performances were great but maybe it would’ve been better if it was Orson Welles and Me or something and Orson Welles got the top billing instead because I wanted to have more with him. I didn’t feel like I needed that Zac Efron romance stuff going on and especially not the tagged on ending that came afterwards. And I could’ve done with a lot less of that.
MARKS: I liked the romance he had more with the other woman, not Claire Danes, the woman that he met at the library when you actually get the whole feel of how people courted each other back in the ‘30s as opposed to today. That the…
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, it…
MARKS: …that then – and I’m always the first one to jump on that bandwagon, to say why are you putting a romantic subplot in where it doesn’t belong? This didn’t bother me. It was in the book so it didn’t bother me. And I went in there waiting to, you know, just – I was going to – I thought I was going to kill the kid. I was like how do you get this kid from “High School Musical” – but it’s the same thing when we watched “Adoration” earlier this year and we saw Scott Speedman, and he gave a good performance, right?
ACCOMANDO: No, he did.
MARKS: And I think that the kid is pretty good in this role.
ACCOMANDO: No, he did a good – he did a good job but, again, I wish the balance was a little different. I could’ve done with a little less of him and a little more of Orson Welles.
MYRLAND: I think the other thing we need to mention about this film is that it’s a film about other art forms.
MYRLAND: And that’s very difficult to do sometimes in films. We’ve got radio going on, the recreation of a radio drama, we have – it’s a film about theatre…
MYRLAND: …so it manages to pull us into those other art forms, I think, in an artful way.
ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm. Well, and I think part of it is because Orson Welles was such an interesting artist that to see him work in these multiple mediums and to see the kind of creativity he had is fascinating to watch.
MARKS: Yeah. And there’s so many great anecdotes that you really don’t have to be that great of a writer to put them in there. The fact that he would have an ambulance at his beck and call just to get through traffic to get from one spot to another, I mean, that’s true. I mean, Orson Welles did do that. So there was so much in this man’s life and so much self-conscious myth making that just turn to that and you’ve got a great movie. And I think that this is one of those holiday films that I think most people should go to see compared to some of the other more depressing, bigger budgeted ones.
MYRLAND: And would you say you can pretty much take the whole family to this movie?
MARKS: I – Kids…
ACCOMANDO: I wouldn’t take little kids.
MARKS: I think they’d be bored.
ACCOMANDO: Not so much – yeah, because of content. But, I mean, there are – there are sexual references and stuff so if you’ve got little, little kids and if you’ve got little, little kids they’ll probably get bored because there’s a lot of talking.
MARKS: I’d rather my kids see that, though, than “Princess and the Frog.”
MARKS: That’s why I don’t have children.
MYRLAND: So a unanimous recommendation…
MYRLAND: …from both of you for “Me and Orson Welles.”
Companion viewing: "Ed Wood," "The Cradle Will Rock," "Macbeth" (the Welles directed version)
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