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War of the Welles: Seven Actors Who’ve Played Orson

War of the Welles: Seven Actors Who’ve Played Orson (photo)

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Vincent D’Onofrio and Maurice LaMarche in “Ed Wood” (1994)

Directed by Tim Burton

The Film is… a biopic about the life of Edward D. Wood Jr., the so-called “worst director of all-time.” Frustrated by his financiers’ efforts to control his film “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” Wood (Johnny Depp) storms off the set and heads to the nearest bar where, by chance, Orson Welles sits alone, looking over his notes for his production of “Don Quixote.” Welles invites Wood to join him at his table and the two strike up a conversation about filmmaking.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… Ed Wood with talent. As Wood and Welles chat, they realize they have a lot in common: both men struggle to maintain their artistic vision in the face of domineering moneymen and producers who think they’re directors and try to recut their pictures. Welles eventually gives Wood the encouragement he needs to complete “Plan 9.” “Ed,” he tells him, “visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?”

D’Onofrio and LaMarche are… a good combination, with D’Onofrio as the face and LaMarche as the voice of Welles. D’Onofrio definitely looks like him, though maybe a bit too much like the boy genius of “Citizen Kane” and not enough like the heavyset has-been who made “Touch of Evil” around the time of this imagined conversation. And LaMarche has made a cottage industry of his uncanny aural resemblance to Welles, even using the voice as the basis of the character The Brain from the cartoon series “Animaniacs” — there’s an entire episode where The Brain throws a recording studio hissy fit nearly identical to Welles’ famous “Frozen Peas” tirade. If you’re curious to hear why director Tim Burton chose to dub in LaMarche’s voice for D’Onofrio’s, just watch D’Onofrio’s “Five Minutes, Mr. Welles,” a short film about the actor’s preparations for his famous supporting role in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.” Five minutes of D’Onofrio’s Mr. Welles and his unconvincing upper-class accent is more than enough to convince you that Burton made the right call.

Liev Schreiber in “RKO 281” (1999)

Directed by Benjamin Ross

The Film is… a fictionalized account of the controversy surrounding the production of “Citizen Kane.” Welles and co-screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (John Malkovich) produce their version of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s life, and then Hearst (James Cromwell) uses all of his considerable power and influence to try and destroy the finished film before it’s released to theaters.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… a glory-hogging freedom fighter. On the one hand, Schreiber’s Welles will not compromise his vision or cede the spotlight for anyone, forcing Mankiewicz to change the lead character’s name at one point, and then taking Mank’s name off the screenplay entirely at another. On the other, Welles’ stubborn attitude comes in handy when RKO Pictures begins to buckle under the pressure and Welles is summoned before the board of directors to make his case, which he does, couching the entire debate as a freedom of speech matter. Mostly, this Welles is a relentless, driven egomaniac, though during a rare conciliatory moment with Mankiewicz, he reveals the well of self-doubt he hides from everyone else with his boundless cockiness. Despite his success, his fame, his talent, Welles feels alone. Or as he puts it to Mankiewicz, “I’m just a fraud who couldn’t care less about anyone except himself.” Welles, in other words, isn’t just telling Hearst’s story with “Kane”; he’s also telling his own.

Liev Schreiber is… charismatic, but a bit of a lightweight. He does a fine job capturing the young Welles’ swagger. Hard to blame RKO head George Schaefer (Roy Scheider) for giving this Welles final cut on “Kane”; he’s just so damn charming. Early scenes hum with Welles’ exuberance about his opportunity to make a great film. But Schreiber, and the film as a whole, suffers during the film’s heavier moments: he never carries the sort of raw emotion Welles brought to similar performances. Put it this way: despite the numerous scenes recreating the “Kane” production, I have a hard time believing the guy in “RKO” is the same guy who destroyed Susan Alexander’s bedroom, or who delivered the campaign rally speech, or who screamed at Boss Jim Gettys from across an apartment building stairwell. He just doesn’t have that fire in him.

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Angus Macfadyen in “Cradle Will Rock” (1999)

Directed by Tim Robbins

The Film is… an Altman-esque ensemble piece about the relationship of art and capitalism set during the Great Depression. In one major thread, Orson Welles and the Federal Theater Project’s production of the pro-union musical “The Cradle Will Rock” is threatened when the FTP comes under assault from anti-Communist elements within the U.S. Government. In the other, Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) hires Diego Rivera (Rubén Blades) to paint a mural for the lobby of the Rockefeller Center, but is disgusted by the finished product’s favorable depiction of Communist leaders like Lenin.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… a drunken buffoon. Robbins told Interview at the time of “Cradle Will Rock”‘s release that he found the myth of the young, brilliant Orson Welles to be “overly romantic.” In Robbins’ interpretation, Welles is less the creator of his history than a well-lubricated witness to it. Though Robbins praised Welles in the same interview as “brilliant” with a “wonderful punk personality,” that’s not really the guy we see in Robbins’ film. The guy we see rails against the eight-hour workday and mandatory breaks for union employees, drinks like a fish, and doesn’t take a steady step in the entire picture. Robbins is far more flattering to “The Cradle Will Rock” writer Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria), producer John Houseman (Cary Elwes) and to Hallie Flanagan (Cherry Jones), their benefactor at the Federal Theater Project, who are all regarded as passionate believers in the transcendent power of art. Welles, in contrast, is a guy who passes out during cast auditions and who dines, like William Randolph Hearst, at the 21 Club, hobnobbing with other elites while his workers scrounge for every dollar.

Angus Macfadyen is… not Orson Welles, at least not any Welles I recognize, except perhaps in those Paul Masson Wine commercial outtakes. Scottish by birth, Macfayden rarely sounds like he’s American, let alone like Orson Welles. (Imagine Gerard Butler doing “Citizen Kane” with that strange not-quite-American accent from “The Ugly Truth” and you have a decent approximation.) It’s hard to imagine this Welles making any money in radio; he’s so swamped with alcohol that he slurs every syllable he utters. Macfadyen’s Welles is like something out of one of the period’s screwball comedies: boisterous, rowdy, quick-witted, and frequently tipsy. It’s a fun performance, but it doesn’t exactly scream Orson Welles (at least not the Welles of this particular period) to the point where you wonder, given Robbins’ willingness to fictionalize other parts of the story (John Turturro’s character, for instance, is a fabrication), why he didn’t just change the character’s name from Welles and let Macfadyen go really crazy.

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Christian McKay in “Me and Orson Welles” (2009)

Directed by Richard Linklater

The Film is… a coming-of-age story about a high-school-aged theater enthusiast named Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) who stumbles into a small role in the Mercury Theatre’s 1937 production of “Julius Caesar.”

Orson Welles is portrayed as… a brilliant scoundrel. As described by one of his employees (Claire Danes), Welles is “very competitive, very self-centered, and very brilliant.” “And,” she warns, “the rule with Orson is you don’t criticize him. Ever.” He’s basically the Don Corleone of Depression-era Broadway: favoring those he loves with warmth and generosity and ruining the lives of those who dare to cross him. During his stint at the Mercury, Richard sees many sides of Welles’ persona: his improvisational brilliance, his unwavering directorial vision, his ravenous womanizing, and his dangerous temper. The rest of the “Caesar” cast and crew are often seen waiting around for Welles while he’s darting from one radio appearance to the next. But when he arrives, he is always worth the wait.

Christian McKay is… uncanny. He’s larger than life, but never cartoonish. He’s simultaneously charismatic and repulsive. He’s equally convincing whether Welles is sweet-talking a pretty girl or browbeating an argumentative stagehand. Watching McKay in the role, it is easy to see how Welles commanded so much attention; whenever McKay enters a scene, you can’t take your eyes off him. It’s said that Welles fired the actor who previously played Richard’s part in “Julius Caesar” because Welles feared being upstaged. McKay never has to share his character’s concern. He’s so good he comes dangerously close to rendering the film’s title half untrue.

[Additional photos: “The Night That Panicked America,” Paramount Television, 1975; “Malice in Wonderland,” Incorporated Television Company, 1985; “Heavenly Creatures,” Miramax, 1994; “Ed Wood,” Touchstone Pictures, 1994; “RKO 281,” HBO, 1999; “Cradle Will Rock,” Touchstone Pictures, 1999; and “Me and Orson Welles,” Freestyle Releasing, 2009]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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