Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: The Play’s the Thing. Sometimes.

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Me and Orson Welles” (2008), directed by Richard Linklater:

Some people have all the luck. In “Me and Orson Welles”, this high school kid, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), is one of those people. He just shows up and the gods smile upon him. It’s 1937, and Richard’s come into the City, hanging loose with no particular goal in mind. He looks across the street and sees a group of actors waiting.

They are the Mercury Theater Troupe, and they are waiting for the man in charge. The director. And that director is none other than the Boy Genius, Orson Welles (Christian McKay). This was in the days before Welles flew off to Hollywood and made “Citizen Kane”.

Richard walks over to see what’s the deal. Welles shows up. The kid impresses Welles and Welles says, “You’re in the show, kid.” Or words to that effect.

The show is “Julius Caesar”. Welles’ production will wow the New York audiences like nothing since Edwin Booth played Brutus, the same role Welles plays.

Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow, the movie is the behind-the-scenes story of how Welles brought “Julius Caesar” to the New York stage. Christian McKay’s performance as Welles is a tour de force. The movie is well worth seeing for that reason alone. But there are many others, including Claire Danes.

There aren’t that many good movies about the behind-the-scenes work it takes to get a play on the stage. This is one of them.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Gregg Toland, Cinematographer

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is the Cinematographer Gregg Toland:

Orson Welles was not one to share credit. But he shared end credit with the cinematographer, Gregg Toland, on “Citizen Kane”. It was his only way of expressing the important contribution Toland had made to the film.

Last year I spent some time studying “Citizen Kane” to figure out why it is still considered, if not the greatest film of all time, one of the greatest. In addition to the sound achievement by Welles and his team, Gregg Toland did things in that film that makes the film so important, things like deep focus and transitions.

I’ve always watched movies for the story. Studying “Citizen Kane” the way I did, listening to critic Roger Ebert’s commentary, made me realize that the film medium is indeed the cameraman’s medium. No director, no actor, no set designer, no producer has more impact on this visual medium than the director of photography. Now I watch movies I like, trying to get at what the cinematographer did to impact the story. It has impacted not only my viewing pleasure but the way I look at story. Gregg Toland taught me that.

Gregg Toland and the Tools of Immersion.

Nominated for six Oscars, he won once for “Wuthering Heights”. In addition to “Citizen Kane”, he was the cameraman for sixty-six films. These included “The Long Voyage Home”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “The Bishop’s Wife” and “The Best Years of Our Lives”. Unfortunately, he died at the young age of forty-four in 1948. What a loss.