MAKING OF A GENIUS; One of Orson Welles's Early Triumphs Is Seen through the Eyes of Zac Efron's Actor in a Charming Tale of Theatrical Ambition; FILM OF THE WEEK

The Evening Standard (London, England), December 4, 2009 | Go to article overview

MAKING OF A GENIUS; One of Orson Welles's Early Triumphs Is Seen through the Eyes of Zac Efron's Actor in a Charming Tale of Theatrical Ambition; FILM OF THE WEEK


Byline: Derek Malcolm

ME AND ORSON WELLES Cert 12A, 114 mins ****

IALWAYS have to be bigger than life. It's a fault in my nature," Orson Welles once said. He was larger than life in more ways than one, as I can vouchsafe, having been trapped in a lift between his immense frame and almost equally large doberman at the San Sebastian Festival not long before he died.

There was nothing wrong with the lift. It was just that none of us could move when it came to a halt. "Is this how it all ends?" Welles said before we managed to extricate ourselves.

Richard Linklater's entertaining film is about how it all began. It is a fictionalised account of his legendary production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at the hastily refurbished Comedy Theatre, on 41st Street, New york, in 1937.

To meet Welles's ambitions, the theatre was retitled the Mercury, the play renamed Caesar: Death of a Dictator, the text shortened to a bare 90 minutes, the Roman senators dressed in fascist uniforms and the stage covered with platforms, steps and ramps.

Added to that, Welles devised a series of open traps which led down to the understage area and scared his cast witless. At one point, following a blackout, Welles -- who played a suitably declamatory Brutus -- fell through one of the traps and was rendered unconscious.

Fortunately, the opening night was a triumph and Welles, a mere 24 at the time, proclaimed a genius.

Linklater's well-researched if occasionally doubtful rendition of all this is based on the novel by Robert Kaplo. It was made in the beautiful Gaiety Theatre on the Isle of Man and tells the story through Richard Samuels (Zac Efron, the star of High School Musical), a young actor used and then abused by Welles during the production.

Growing up fast in the shadow of the great man he adored, he is virtually our commentator -- and the film succeeds largely because the device works so well, telling us a lot about Welles and a lot more about the mixture of purgatory and heaven, neuroticism and exuberance of theatrical life.

Though Welles required himself to be extravagantly larger than anyone else, he says here, in one of his quieter moments, that he is an actor because his painful real self could disappear into the parts he plays. …

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MAKING OF A GENIUS; One of Orson Welles's Early Triumphs Is Seen through the Eyes of Zac Efron's Actor in a Charming Tale of Theatrical Ambition; FILM OF THE WEEK
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