This week Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles is finally making its way to the big screen. It's not a big buzzed-about film, but it is, indeed, one worthy of your time. The movie offers a peek at Efron's possible future (which the abysmal 17 Again completely failed to do), a delightful look into creating art in the '30s, and it recreates the nuances of theater on the big screen. And hey, it's a Linklater film, which seems to be painfully rare these days.
But none of those reasons are why I urge you to see it. It all rests on the shoulders of actor Christian McKay, who plays Orson Welles. I missed the film at TIFF, and spent the next year listening to raves over McKay's performance before I finally got the chance to make it to a screening. Even with the rave reviews and raised expectations, it was quite easy to get mesmerized by McKay, who not only bears an uncanny resemblance to the iconic actor and filmmaker, but also adeptly embodies the man's larger-than-life ways.
To get the full experience, you must be familiar with Welles, and if you're not, well, good lord, now's the time to change that. What follows are some of Welles' essential work, as well as glimpses into the man's real life so you can see just how good McKay's performance is.
War of the Worlds
In 1938, Welles directed and narrated The War of the Worlds as part of Mercury Theatre on the Air -- the radio segment of the New York-based theater company in which the film is based (that Orson co-founded). This infamous broadcast included a series of fake news bulletins that made a number of listeners think that there was actually a Martian invasion plaguing the planet. There has been disagreement about the supposed panic the performance inspired, but the radio episode remains one of Welles' most notable pieces of work. Download and listen to the broadcast for free over at Archive.org.
In Me and Orson Welles, there is some talk about Welles' work with William Shakespeare's Hamlet while preparing for the opening night of a fascist-themed Julius Caesar. Welles narrated the former for The Columbia Workshop. This performance is also available at Archive.org as part of a trio of episodes.
Considered by many (including AFI) to be the best film of all time, Citizen Kane is clearly Welles' masterpiece. The film follows Charles Foster Kane (modeled after William Randolph Hearst), an American newspaper magnate who had an insatiable need for power before dying and uttering the mysterious word: "Rosebud."
Touch of Evil
While a pretty pulpy film overall -- one that dares to fashion Charlton Heston as a Hispanic man named Miguel -- Touch of Evil allowed Welles the fun of playing the corrupt cop Captain Hank Quinlan. The noir is best known for its opening scene -- a ridiculously impressive and continuous 3-minute, 30-second tracking shot, which you can see below. It's not really surprising that it's so epically cinematic -- Welles adapted Whit Masterson's novel and directed the film.
The Third Man
You must be patient with The Third Man. For a good deal of the movie, Welles is nowhere to be found until, suddenly, he's there in the kind of scene-stealing perfection that only a larger-than-life man like Welles could pull off. The actor plays Harry Lime, a man who has led one Holly Martins to Vienna, only to be killed before his friend gets there under very mysterious circumstances. The film won an Oscar for Best Cinematography -- Black & White ... no doubt for the scene below.
The Tragedy of Othello
Not quite the man you'd expect to play the Moor prince, Welles' Othello, which he directed and starred in, was plagued with a myriad of cash problems and a three-year shooting schedule due to repeated financial woes. Welles used his earnings from a variety of gigs to finance and finish the film. While it was never a hit in the U.S., the film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.
Orson Welles on Dick Cavett
But really, while his work is important, the real magic that links McKay and Welles comes with watching the great icon as himself. You can find a series of clips of his interview with Dick Cavett here, where he talks candidly about meddling from the likes of Harry Cohn, his thoughts on Winston Churchill, and more.
Check out the Churchill clip below, in which he discusses Churchill reciting bits of Othello to him.