Exactly, tonyw: Dreadful as Tim Robbins' depiction of Orson Welles and John Houseman was in CRADLE WILL ROCK, the recreation of the actual production of Welles' Labor musical, The Cradle Will Rock, and the various ensemble elements which created it, was brilliant. The feeling one had at the end of that film, after its final sequence, and Emily Watson's L'envoi to the film's poetic explanation of how Art was turned into "a product" became truly moving. You wanted to stand up and applaud (or should have, if you had any heart), but no one watching ME AND ORSON WELLES really believes that the audience gasped at the death of Cinna the Poet -- or that they actually stood up and applauded for three straight minutes (not shown at all). There's only a "reaction shot" of a good actor like Christian McKay, trying to make you believe!
But in real life, the audience did those things.
And don't let anyone tell you, tonyw, that pictures in LIFE Magazine of the 1930's, or Andy Hardy movies, were the same as living in the 1930's, or experiencing the impact of Welles' Julius Caesar on the American Theater. Then, as now, there was Art and there was Kitsch. There was Art of merit, and meretricious Art. There was Art which fulfilled a people in a way which showed them the truth of their condition, and there was "escapism." Leafing through LIFE Magazine or going to Andy Hardy movies was escapism. Not necessarily bad, but . . . .
Arcane theory to one side, it always amazes me when a poster, who has neither experienced directly a given work of art (i.e., ME AND ORSON WELLES), either in the present or in the time it was set (November 1937), nor who actually lived through the 1930's, presumes to tell someone who has -- and did; a poster who did not experience the fresh wonder of Orson Welles' innovations as someone else did; that such a poster can tell someone who has had those experiences that HE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT HE'S TALKING ABOUT!! It's truly laughable. [For instance, no one in 1937 talked about "the free world"; that klinker dates from the Cold War.]
The audience as . . . "a blank slate," huh?
I think that such a poster should sit down, imagine, imagine, imagine REALLY HARD that he is alive in November 1937, as Orson Welles' production of Julius Caesar is opening at the Mercury Theater on West 41st Street in New York City, and then imagine that he is drinking a glass of fresh, chilled, slightly spritzy Beaujolais. The wine has just been raced across the Atlantic on the Normandie. He looks at the bottle. It says, "Mercurey." I wonder if that person has ever made, could ever make, such an association with Orson Welles and the spirit behind wanting to produce an Anti-Fascist "modern dress" Julius Caesar?
I'll bet the answer is, No! Anyway, not to worry: it's only a metaphor. Another one of those "blank slates."
Todd: Do you actually believe that my over thirty year career as an English teacher should automatically cast me as a shill for a teen novel simply because it was written by a distant colleague in the profession of teaching English? It's like asking you to play Larry French in a bio-pic of his adventures when he was a prisoner in Manchuria during the Korean War! Are we at Wellesnet (thanks, I'll admit, in part due to my occasional jibes at you) in fact going to sink to the "good old boy" secret society level that some readers already think we have? That would be a pity.
Sorry, Todd, I've never played that game, probably to my detriment, and I don't intend to start now.
Only the mysterious "sock puppets" sometimes decried here follow a Party Line.
Robert Kaplow's Me and Orson Welles is a lightweight novel designed for the young readers market. Nothing wrong with that -- Lord knows, we need to get the next generation reading real books or our marriages will be based on sexting, our families performing on reality shows, our civil rights determined by MK-ULTRA Programs, and our foreign policy based on computer simulations. Nor should we object that, incidentally, a young reader might develop an interest in the vibrant period of American History before World War II. Those stipulations, however, in my opinion, do not excuse the missed opportunities so obvious in the motion picture adaptation of the book. What works in, say, a youth novel may not translate well into drama, even romantic drama. Such is the case with ME AND ORSON WELLES.
Almost every early review dismissed the film as a "pleasant but slight" romance of the theater. Few of the early Toronto Film Festival reviews, back in September 2008, were any more supportive after a partial showing at Cannes failed to draw a distributor. THE PLAYLIST review of September 12th of that year was rather typical:
" Easily the least engaging film we've seen so far, Richard Linklater's 'Me and Orson Welles,' wasn't terrible — it was mostly unremarkable.
"About a young aspiring actor (a surprisingly decent Zac Efron) who randomly lands a theater gig of 'Julius Caesar,' with pre-movie fame but still renowned Orson Welles. We wonder what compels a filmmaker to tell a story like this.
"Not because it's bad, but the story — set in the mid-'30s, must have felt like a nice period-piece change of pace. The script is rather clever at times but if you're going to spend two years or so of your life on a film you want probably want to tackle something that really means something . . . ."
In other words, my criticism of the film was deep in the bone of this and other early reviews.
Now, something happened to ME AND ORSON WELLES between the time it was shown in a digital print, five to seven minutes shorter, at Toronto (the same print I believe Larry French and I saw, well over a month ago, at a special screening), and the theatrical print we witnessed last week. The film, I would swear, had been tweaked to meet a few of the criticisms which had trailed it for over a year. As I told Director Richard Linklater, I was embarrassed that the version of his film I'd just seen was better than the one I had reviewed a week or two before. But as I also told him before a couple of hundred people, despite his easy explanation of wanting to make a film about "the theatrical experience," I still had misgivings that he had missed an opportunity to create a truly important picture about a time when Art could still move people to emotion and action.
[Sadly, what we see along those lines now-a-days either doesn't register or is purely propaganda for a partisan cause without any artistic pretensions.]
The perceptive critic, Vadim Rizov, working for Editor Alison Willmore's IFC.com Independent Eye makes the case in their November 30, 2009, issue for how the PR (perhaps, a real theatrical negative, and a vital additional seven minutes plugged into ME AND ORSON WELLES after the Toronto Film Festival) turned the emphasis onto the film's more serious subject, as much as was possible at a late date:
"Richard Linklater's long-delayed 'Me And Orson Welles' was met with respectful but largely unenthused, hands-off reviews. Despite that, an opening weekend of $16,200 per screen is no joke for a film that took over a year to straggle to theaters. I was part of the crowd; I'm from Austin, so solidarity with Linklater's work is key. As it happened, the theater was being polled by some diligent firm who gave a very cluttered survey breaking us down as demographics -- age, race, where you heard about the movie. Before the screening, you were invited to contemplate which factor which drove you to the theater, what made you choose (underlined) 'this movie': Zac Efron? 'The romance'? 'Looks different from other movies out'? Perhaps, more modestly, 'Richard Linklater, the director?'
"The audience, as it turned out, was mostly middle-aged and more interested in seeing a good, proper piece of Oscar bait than either another laid-back Linklater film or a close encounter Efron's dulcet pipes (though my viewing companion spotted six or seven Efron-tweens in the crowd). Though Efron gets to sing a song in his anachronistic Disney Channel-voice, he's mostly kept in the background while Christian McKay's enjoyable Orson Welles impersonation takes center stage. (With a bigger marketing budget, he'd be a nomination lock.)"
Again, the thrust of the criticism is that the film should highlight Orson Welles and Christian McKay
Claudia Puig sums up my argument in the November 26, 2009, USA TODAY:
"Awkward syntax aside, Me and Orson Welles would be a much better movie if the first part of the title were excised, or at least scaled back.
The story pertaining to Orson Welles (terrifically played by Christian McKay) is far more compelling than what happens to the young guy who gets unexpectedly swept up in Welles' brilliant circle. Had the movie, which is set in 1937, centered more on Welles and his seminal production of Julius Caesar, it would have been fascinating. But as a theatrical coming-of-age story, it's slight, only sporadically enjoyable and sometimes corny."
Again, in other words, Linklater, McKay, Danes, and Efron's arguments in favor of ME AND ORSON WELLES were substantially an attempt to satisfy Ms. Puig's just criticism.
Those are my "facts," Todd. Aside from an unfortunate mindset to call anyone who doesn't agree with the Wellesnet Party Line, "ridiculous," where are your "facts"?
Actually, this kind of discussion and argument is just the thing which will get many people out to a theater to see for themselves. [My ex-wife, who "doesn't go to the theater anymore," called me, when I was out on Monday evening, to alert me that the film I'd been telling her about was being discussed on Charlie Rose. She said the Director and Christian McKay were making points I had made to her.]
I think that ME AND ORSON WELLES will win its money back, encourage young people to read Mr. Kaplow's novel, and, most importantly, stimulate interest in other Welles' projects. The FACT is that the ME AND ORSON WELLES I don't like much (faithful to my fellow English teacher's teen coming of age novel), the one that flubs two romances, and fails to really generate much emotion for the greatest Pre-War American Shakespeare production but in a cynically embalmed "we tore their throats out" sense -- that film is gradually gaining a numerically positive weight of reviews, largely due to the performance of Christian McKay.
Under the circumstances, what could be better than that!?
Last edited by Glenn Anders
on Wed Dec 09, 2009 10:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.