Ci­ti­zen Lin­klater

It’s easy to see Richard Lin­klater – di­rec­tor of Slacker and School of Rock – as a film-mak­ing de­scen­dent of Or­son Welles, the orig­i­nal in­die di­rec­tor. Lin­klater tells Don­ald Clarke about Or­son’s en­dur­ing ap­peal, why he has just made a film about him, an

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

WHY DO we keep com­ing back to Or­son Welles? Ver­sions of the late poly­math have ap­peared so of­ten in films that he has de­vel­oped an in­de­pen­dent life as a demi-fic­tional char­ac­ter. Danny Hus­ton played him re­cently in Fade to Black. Vin­cent D’Onofrio had a crack at Welles in Ed Wood. An­gus Macfadyen did an Or­son in The Cra­dle Will Rock. Now, Richard Lin­klater, di­rec­tor of Be­fore Sun­rise, Slacker and a half-dozen other funky cult hits, of­fers us Chris­tian McKay as the great man in a smart new film en­ti­tled Me and Or­son Welles. He just won’t go away.

“Or­son in­vented it as he went along,” Lin­klater ven­tures. “In that sense he is the pa­tron saint of in­die film. He in­vented in­de­pen­dent cin­ema. The per­se­ver­ance and guts that he had re­mains an in­spi­ra­tion.”

This makes a lot of sense. Af­ter re­leas­ing his tran­scen­dent de­but Ci­ti­zen Kane in 1941 – a crit­i­cal tri­umph, but a fi­nan­cial fail­ure – Welles was pro­pelled into decades of jud­der­ing, er­ratic movie pro­duc­tion. His films were of­ten fi­nanced via a rag-bag of un­con­ven­tional sources and shot in sev­eral coun­tries over many months (oc­ca­sion­ally years).

Richard Lin­klater, a na­tive of Austin, Texas, has worked both within and without the stu­dio sys­tem, but, since beginning his ca­reer with a se­ries of no-bud­get come­dies, he has al­ways re­mained true to Welles’s in­de­pen­dent aes­thetic.

“The prob­lem was that Welles didn’t have ac­cess to in­de­pen­dent dis­tri­bu­tion then,” he muses. “I think he might have thrived in, say, the 1970s. Like Robert Alt­man, he might have pro­duced a se­ries of clas­sics that didn’t make very much money, but re­mained as land­marks.”

Me and Or­son Welles re­turns to the 1930s and Welles’s ex­pe­ri­ences work­ing with the Mer­cury The­atre in New York City. Based on a novel by Robert Kaplow, the pic­ture de­tails the ex­pe­ri­ences of a young man hired to es­say amod­est role in the di­rec­tor’s fa­mous pro­duc­tion of Julius Cae­sar. As events progress, the hero, played by hy­per-heart­throb Zac Efron, falls in love with a pretty pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant and gets to glimpse the many ruth­less streaks in Welles’s per­son­al­ity.

“The story is pretty fic­tion­alised,” Lin­klater ex­plains. “All the big stuff is true-to-life, but a lot of the in­ter-per­sonal stuff is made-up. The sur­prise is, maybe, that there is no footage of the pro­duc­tion. Welles was on the brink of cin­ema and he was work­ing in the most ephemeral of art forms. You would have thought he’d bring in the cam­eras even briefly.”

“I like every­one in the movie in­dus­try. Be­cause they like movies. They re­ally do. When I have a film that fits then we all feel very lucky”

Though largely filmed in, of all places, the Isle of Man, Me and Or­son Welles does a very good job of sum­mon­ing up Broad­way dur­ing the later years of the De­pres­sion. Yet the pic­ture is most no­table for the spir­ited in­ter­play be­tween Efron and McKay. Young Zac, hith­erto best known for the High School Mu­si­cal films, con­firms that he has tal­ent as well as charisma.

McKay, a job­bing ac­tor and clas­si­cal pi­anist, of­fers an as­tound­ingly con­vinc­ing – both phys­i­cal and vo­cal – im­per­son­ation of Welles. How on earth do you set about find­ing such a con­vinc­ing Or­son? “I op­tioned the book and I had a script, but I still thought: let’s not pro­ceed un­til we have the right Or­son,” Lin­klater says. “I had too much re­spect for Welles. Then I saw Chris­tian in a the­atre. I be­lieve the film gods just handed him to us. There is, ob­vi­ously, a phys­i­cal re­sem­blance. But he is Welle­sian in other ways. He was in the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany. He, too, was told from a young age that he’s a ge­nius – he’s a world-class clas­si­cal pi­anist – so I think he un­der­stood Welles.”

For all McKay’s gifts, the film’s main sell­ing point re­mains the pres­ence of young Mr Efron. A few short years ago, Efron was en­tirely un­heard of. Even now, most peo­ple over the age of 30 might have trou­ble putting a face to the un­usual name. But, since High School Mu­si­cal went bal­lis­tic, Efron has, by some reck­on­ings, be­come one of the four big­gest stars in the world. En­tire cities shake with un­du­lat­ing teenage li­bidos when­ever he jets in for a press jun­ket.

“Well, I never saw High School Mu­si­cal,” Lin­klater con­fesses. “I mean it is just not my de­mo­graphic. I didn’t care what he’d been in. I just knew in 18 sec­onds that this guy was per­fect: re­ally funny, re­ally smart, re­ally know­ing. He’s a nat­u­ral song-and-dance man. It


Chris­tian McKay and Zac Ephron in Richard Lin­klater’s Me and Or­son Welles

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