Me and Orson Welles
Before he was a household name, before the famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast (which apparently didn’t cause nearly as much panic as legend has it), Orson Welles founded the Mercury Theater with John Houseman. Their first production was Julius Caesar, cut down and set in fascist Italy. This movie is a recreation of the genesis of that production, seen through the eyes of a fictional theater wannabe who is not yet out of high school (played surprisingly well by teen heartthrob Zac Efron of the High School Musical franchise). Welles proceeds to drive everyone crazy with his mercurial style, high-handedness, massive ego, and many other irons in the fire. One cast member says “Waiting for Orson is our main occupation,” or words to that effect. He shows up when he wants to, with no consideration for anyone else. In fact, when Orson is around, no one else really exists, he is always center stage. There is no question that Welles could be an asshole … but then you see the final production, which comes together at the last minute and, in spite of what you might have feared, is stunning. Amazing. Groundbreaking. The audience applauded for ten minutes. It has been my observation in life that geniuses are often assholes, and I forgive them everything as long as they continue to deliver masterpieces, as Welles soon was to do in film with Citizen Kane. Just so long as I don’t have to work with them! They will chew you up and cast you aside, as the young man is here. This is a real triumph for Christian McKay in the role of Welles. He even manages to look a little like him, but if you close your eyes he is Orson Welles, it’s as simple as that. It’s like he has come back to life.