"Me and Orson Welles" and "The Road"

The Auteurs Daily

Me and Orson Welles

"In the traditional mythologies," begins Andrew Schenker in Slant, "two views of Orson Welles predominate, neither exactly flattering: the boy genius of the pre-Citizen Kane years, a fiery, arrogant wunderkind who cares for nothing except his art, unless it's the company of as many women as will have him; and later, the bloated fatso pissing his legacy away on indifferent supporting roles and television spots while unable to complete any work of his own. Whatever the historical accuracy of these images may be (and we know that the second, in particular, is a dangerously false characterization), it's not clear what productive use is to be gained from their continued rehashing. Which is why, among other reasons, Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, which draws on Robert Kaplow's novel of the same name and takes place during the filmmaker's 1937 make-it-or-break-it stage production of Julius Caesar, seems such an unenlightening exercise."

David Denby in the New Yorker, where Jon Michaud gathers a bit of related material from back issues of the magazine: "[I]f Me and Orson Welles isn't as witty as Shakespeare in Love, which, after all, had a script shined up by Tom Stoppard, it's much better than Cradle Will Rock, Tim Robbins's 1999 account of another legendary early Welles project, a movie with too many characters and too narrow a view (i.e., orthodox left) of the relation of money and art. The strength of Me and Orson Welles is that it sticks to Welles's actual production and to the life of a new theatre company. This is a movie of great spirit and considerable charm. It's about the giddiness of promise - the awakening of young talent, after years of the Depression, to a moment when anything seems possible."

"The 'battle over Orson Welles,' to use the phrase of the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, has been raging since before Welles's death in 1985, in a series of biographies and critical studies that range from apologias to hatchet jobs," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times, where he blends a crash course in all this loaded history with a conversation with Linklater.

Speaking of Jonathan Rosenbaum, he's recently reviewed Chris Welles Feder's In My Father's Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles for Moving Image Source: "[O]ne feels from the outset that her very moving cri de coeur was written out of psychic necessity rather than out of any academic or commercial impulse - a passionate and even somewhat desperate attempt to lay certain ghosts to rest. And part of this book's uncommon strength is that it ends on a positive note with a lot of hard-won wisdom, in spite of all the grief it recounts."

Back in October, Christian Raymond interviewed Linklater for the Austin Film Society's Persistence of Vision. Meantime, Linklater has told Collider that his "spiritual sequel" to Dazed and Confused, an 80s-era college comedy, has been put on the back burner thanks to this rotten economy. The Playlist speculates on what he might do next.

Image: Christian McKay, widely acknowledged in earlier reviews as putting on a damn fine Orson Welles. Kyle Buchanan talks with him for Movieline.

Updates, 11/24: "Me and Orson Welles may be most valuable for reminding us of the wellspring of the legendary filmmaker's mythology," writes Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE.

Paul Matwychuk: "I am a total sucker for backstage comedies, especially the ones where opening night looks like it's going to be a total disaster but miraculously turns into a triumph instead, and sure enough, I fell for Me and Orson Welles as well."

Online listening tip. Richard Linklater's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Updates, 11/25: "The most significant American artist before Andy Warhol to take 'the media' as his medium, Orson Welles lives on not only in posthumously restored director's cuts of his re-released movies, but as a character in other people's novels, plays, and movies - notably Richard Linklater's deft, affectionate, and unexpectedly enjoyable Me and Orson Welles," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. McKay's "vocal impression of Welles is pitch-perfect, and he nails Welles's ironic twinkle and assured, mocking self-importance. He portrays the shamelessly hammy, hilariously patronizing, craftily manipulative Welles learning how to play Welles - that his performance is clearly modeled on Welles's own as the young Charles Foster Kane actually enriches Citizen Kane in retrospect."

More from Michael Atkinson (IFC), Mary Pols (Time), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Michael J Rowin (L) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Kyle Buchanan talks with Linklater for Movieline and Aaron Hillis interviews Zac Efron for IFC.

Update, 11/26: From IFC's Matt Singer: "War of the Welles: Seven Actors Who've Played Orson."

Updates, 11/27: The Telegraph's David Gritten interviews McKay; Catherine Shoard profiles Efron for the Guardian.



The Road

"It seems a bit precious to talk about how studio politics can muck up a well-intentioned film but there is really no other framework to discuss John Hillcoat's The Road," argues Erin Donovan. "After testing horribly with key demographics, Dimension Films shelved the film for over a year. After much public acrimony, recriminations, forced re-shoots and re-edits, the film emerges with a slightly cheerier ending than originally intended and an Oscar-baiting release strategy of doling out the film at prestigious film festivals (Venice, Telluride, Toronto) with a late November theatrical release date.... The film is clearly made with tremendous talent and skill (there may not be a better looking film this year) but passions that have been watered down by too many special interest groups."

"Whereas Cormac McCarthy is an author to whom cynicism comes easy, director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) is a filmmaker whose doubt about mankind's capacity for good comes laced with a tinge of humanistic hopefulness," writes Nick Schager. "And while McCarthy's curt, hard prose best reflects his worldview's bleakness, Hillcoat's direction of the novelist's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road captures, with assuredness and sincerity, both the compassionate as well as the cold found in McCarthy's tale about a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) traversing a post-apocalyptic American wasteland. In adapting the Oprah-celebrated book, Hillcoat (working with screenwriter Joe Penhall) hews closely to the letter, which concerns his hobo vagabond protagonists - filthy, dressed in ragged coats and shoes, hauling their scavenged goods in a rickety shopping cart - avoiding cannibalistic marauders, thieves, and the equally dangerous wet and chill of a world burned to a char years earlier by a mysterious, all-consuming fire."

"Where Terrence Malick, whose sensuality and spiritual zeal makes him a kindred spirit of McCarthy's, might have made a transcendent cinematic statement from this gripping story, Hillcoat settles for something almost numbing in its literal-mindedness," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

"Doomsday sagas have never been far from our collective American imagination, but they've rarely been closer," writes New York's David Edelstein. "On its own grueling terms, The Road works. It brings you down, down, down, and its characters' famishment is contagious: Your heart leaps at the sight of a can of peaches."

More from Paul Matwychuk, Mary Pols (Time) and S James Snyder (Artforum).

Sam Adams talks with Mortensen for the Los Angeles Times. Quint talks with Hillcoat for AICN. John Jurgensen has a long talk with McCarthy for the Wall Street Journal, while Scott Timberg profiles him for the LAT.

Online viewing tip. David Poland interviews Hillcoat and Mortensen.

Updates, 11/24: "It may seem perverse to complain that a vision of human near-extinction is insufficiently bleak," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The Road is engrossing and at times impressive, a pretty good movie that is disappointing to the extent that it could have been great. Is this the way the world ends? With polite applause?"

"The Road is finally a story about father and son, about what a parent lives for and what a child tries to retain as he carries on alone," argues Josef Braun. "The accumulation of moments of desperate searching and running, of laughter and play - rare, but memorable - and of mutual learning about how to negotiate with the unruly world becomes resonant, and unforgettably moving. So see The Road, and then, perhaps, see it again. There's something precious amidst all that darkness."

"It lacks the apocalyptic punch of 1984's Threads or 1982's The Day After, and is far from bleak and depressing in its approach," finds Ed Champion. "But a liberal parent may very well argue that this family-centric film is fun for the whole family. I couldn't help but wonder at times whether Viggo would coo, 'Good night, John Boy,' under the acid rain of family values."

More interviews with Hillcoat: Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix) and Tasha Robinson (AV Club).

Updates, 11/25: "Maybe in no other year besides 1973 could Cormac McCarthy's The Road be made into a major Hollywood production, lean and deadly avalanche-read sonofabitch that it is, speaking into the reader's ears with the matter-of-fact voice of his or her worst post-nuclear nightmares." Michael Atkinson at IFC: "That's just one hurdle for director John Hillcoat, making the camera speak with McCarthy's tongue, and Joel and Ethan Coen's assiduous pauses and chilly distance fared far better than Hillcoat's plaintive earnestness. But the first thing one must acknowledge about The Road is how beautiful and dead serious and respectful it is, and the second thing is how much you find yourself wishing that all of that mattered more in the end."

More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly), J Hoberman (Voice), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Eric Hynes (Slate), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Dana Stevens (Slate), Benjamin Strong (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times).

For Filmmaker, Damon Smith talks with Hillcoat about "the anxieties of adaptation, the challenge of creating a futuristic world with natural light, and why Cormac McCarthy's favorite film is La strada." Frank DiGiacomo talks with him, too. For Vanity Fair. Darrell Hartman gets a few words with him, too, for Interview.

At Nerve, Phil Nugent lists the "Five Sexiest Apocalypse Movies."

Updates, 11/27: "On a performance level, Hillcoat's film succeeds, with the genuine chemistry between the two leads bolstered by brief but strong appearances from Guy Pearce, The Wire's Michael K Williams, and an agreeably hambone Robert Duvall," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "Where The Road stumbles, unfortunately - and perhaps inevitably - is in its attempts to adequately reproduce the book's thunderously grim, somehow cleansing vision. McCarthy's basic theme of grinding inevitability broken up by brief moments of happiness (including the best cameo by a Coke machine since Dr Strangelove) remains, but Hillcoat's noble effort ultimately falls under the category of things much better imagined than seen. Instead of The End of All That Is, this is, well, just a movie."

Todd Gilchrist interviews Mortensen for Cinematical.

Online viewing. Eric Hynes chats with Richard Linklater, a "Reverse Shot Talkie," in the Mercury Theatre.

More online viewing. Mark Kermode: "Me and Me and Orson Welles."

 

 

IN OTHER NEWS


Making for a nifty segue to a few items gleaned from the @theauteursdaily feed, Row Three's "Doomsday Movie Marathon" rolls on through to the end of the year. The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club is discussing Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters this month. And the big, big Boris Karloff Blog-a-Thon, hosted by Frankensteinia, launched today.

One of Catherine Grant's more spectacular roundups of late: "Storytelling sans frontières? On Adaptation, Remaking, Intertextuality, and Transmediality."

At Cartoon Brew, Jerry Beck gathers links and synopses for all ten animated shorts in the running for an Oscar this year.

Eric Skillman, a graphic designer for Criterion, answers 20 (or 21) questions.

And: "We will finally discover as a world premiere at the 68th Venice International Film Festival in 2011, coinciding with the opening of the celebrations of the centennial of the birth of Nicholas Ray (Galesville, 7 August 1911 - New York, 16 June 1979), the reconstructed and restored, definitive and faithful to the original idea, of We Can't Go Home Again, the posthumous work of the great American director, an experimental and ‘multi-narrative' film on the border between film and visual arts, filmed together with young filmmakers of Harpur College (New York), where Ray taught."

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