Citizen Welles as Myth in the Making, a Review of , "Me and Orson Welles"

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RICHARD LINKLATER is keen to point out that his new film, “Me and Orson Welles,” is not a biopic. For starters, he said in a recent phone interview: “Biopics are the lamest genre. No one should attempt them anymore.”

What’s more, when it comes to a figure as protean and elusive as Welles, there are obvious complicating factors. Welles was not only a habitual fabulist — “the most unreliable narrator of his own life,” Mr. Linklater said — but also an outsize subject for the projections of others. (“I drag my myth around with me,” he told Kenneth Tynan.) His early masterpiece, “Citizen Kane” (1941), which for many came to define and haunt him, is a fittingly prismatic take on the perils of biography, one that leads its reporter character to conclude, “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.”

Based on a young-adult novel by Robert Kaplow, “Me and Orson Welles,” which opens on Wednesday, attempts nothing so lofty as an explanation of a life. It restricts itself to a few days in the garrulous company of a 22-year-old Welles, already a theater and radio star, a force of nature at the height of his productivity.

The year is 1937, and Welles (played by Christian McKay, a British stage actor with only one previous film credit) is fresh off his triumphant all-black staging of “Macbeth” and a few months shy of appearing on the cover of Time magazine. The wide-eyed perspective comes from the fictional “me” of the title, a teenage theater buff (Zac Efron) who stumbles into a bit part in the modern-dress version of “Julius Caesar” staged by the Mercury Theater, founded by Welles and John Houseman.

“His myth was still in creation,” Mr. Linklater said of the heady period covered in “Me and Orson Welles.” “You can see whatever you want there. You can see all the genius, or you can see future tragedy.” He acknowledged that any portrayal of Welles is bound to be something of a lightning rod. Because so many film lovers have “a special relationship with Welles,” he said, “to depict him is to risk interfering with their preconceptions or theories.”

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 (with a greater number landing toward the negative end of the spectrum)....

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