Thank you, tonyw! You have come down "in the place you ought to be."
Shakespeare was no democrat, but neither was Orson Welles a fan of sentimentality, and so, in my opinion, Tracy Montry's review of ME AND ORSON WELLES is among the very most perceptive published so far. I'm sure that Christopher Welles Feder and historians of the period would agree. Despite the excellence of the performances, Christian McKay's in particular, and the visual mis-en-scene of ME AND ORSON WELLES, the screenplay's lightweight neglect of Welles' intent, and the lack of explication for the Fascist allusions in his production of Julius Caesar, robbed the film (and McKay's performance) of more than a long-shot chance at awards. In presenting Orson Welles purely as a cynical manipulator, and his major players simply as womanizers, buffoons, and shallow egotists, any profound empathy for events and people depicted in the film was destroyed.
[I would suggest, as I may have in the past, that in every serious play or film (and certain other projects) he attempted, Welles stressed the male dominant, fascistic or totalitarian bent which he saw throughout human development, and which he may have recognized and fought deeply within himself: "The Black Macbeth," The Cradle Will Rock, "The Modern Dress (better, Fascism-alarming) Julius Caesar, Danton's Death, The Five Kings, "The Heart of Darkness," CITIZEN KANE, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, JOURNEY INTO FEAR, (GILDA), THE STRANGER, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, MACBETH, OTHELLO, (THE THIRD MAN), MR. ARKADIN, TOUCH OF EVIL, THE TRIAL, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, THE IMMORTAL STORY, THE DEEP, and THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. Had ME AND ORSON WELLES been handled by better writers, as Tracy Montry remarks, that driving conviction would have been the key to Orson Welles' character, to humanizing him, and making us understand his complexity and why his players and audiences leapt to embrace his artistic visions. With the exception of F FOR FAKE, in which Welles gave himself over in gentle acceptance to Robert Graves, and in admiring bliss to Oja Kodar, can anyone think of a serious major work of Welles which does not stress the male-dominant "fascist" theme?]
After all, does not Tracy Montry do here what a critic is supposed to do? Point out the strengths of what is in an artistic work, provide informational context, and lament what is missing?
Because of tonyw's welcome addition to the discussion, in showing the (crucial?) relevance of the Fascist theme today , and because of some confusion about the general and public recognition of the Fascist theme in Welles' 1937 Julius Caesar, let me call your attention to the production's initial report in perhaps the most read (and looked at!) American publication of its period, LIFE Magazine, November 22, 1937, p. 84-86: http://books.google.com/books?id=kz8EAA ... q=&f=false
A short paragraph begins: "Shakespeare in modern dress has long been familiar to U.S. audiences. Now to New York comes a production of Julius Caesar in which the Roman conqueror looks like Mussolini, wears fascist garb, gives the fascist salute. . . ."
The article is replete with five photographs. They show Welles' Mercury actors, in black military uniforms, "hailing Caesar" with outstretched hands; Caesar (Joe Holland), on way to his death, striking a pose for his wife, chin jutting up in Benito's inimitable style of bravado; Cassius enlisting the liberal, Brutus, in his assassination plot; Brutus administering "the unkindest cut of all" to Caesar; and Mark Antony rousing the Roman populace over the cruel butchery of their Dictator.
A caption for the first photo announces: "CAESAR RESEMBLES MUSSOLINI, GIVES THE FASCIST SALUTE." And the last photo caption tells us: "[Antony] arouses the fury of the mob, destroys the "liberals," and paves the way for a new Caesar to march triumphantly into the city with fascist banners and floodlights."
What must have struck Welles (and which does not evidently register upon us now, in our zombie-like torpor, advancing toward our own totalitarian, imperialistic disaster) was how Shakespeare's Julius Caesar provided a perfect template for what had happened in Europe, what might happen in America: Julius Caesar, a strong man, an admired hero to the people, has become first a legal consul (or president), then in time of stress, a dictator, and as the play begins, is considering the emasculation of the Senate, prior to having himself declared an Emperor and a God. He must be stopped! say the proletarians and their leader, Cassius. They engage the liberal Brutus and his Liberals in a plot against this Supreme Egotist, Julius Caesar, only to be themselves destroyed by a new strong man, Mark Antony, whose subsequent engagement in civil war will make Octavian (Augustus) the Emperor (and eventually the "god") Brutus and Cassius sought to thwart.
The struggle against the beginnings of tyranny has always been thus, or something like it, in every time and place.
Tracy Montry and Mido505 clear up for us our ignorance and confusion over Welles' emphasis and intent, point us in the direction of understanding the peril the American Republic finds itself in at the moment.
Orson Welles saw it so clearly. Why can't we?
Too bad the writers of ME AND ORSON WELLES did not. Christian McKay, at least, would have had his Academy Award Nomination, and maybe, an Oscar.