No SXSW Film Festival can do without Richard Linklater. The Austin-based filmmaker routinely appears at the fest each year, whether or not he has a movie in it. This time, the program technically contained no Linklater movie, but he managed to slip one in, anyway.
A Monday 11 a.m. "secret screening" at Austin’s Paramount theater turned out to be Linklater’s latest feature, "Me and Orson Welles." Much like the impromptu showing of Steven Soderbergh’s "The Girlfriend Experience" at the Sundance Film Festival in January, by the time of the Paramount event the secret was no more — Twitter updates and other fast-paced means of communication took care of that. "Does anyone not know what you’re doing here?" joked SXSW producer Janet Pierson as she introduced the film.
A smoothly directed account of Welles’ Mercury Theatre production of "Julius Caesar", the movie focuses on an ambitious teenager ("High School Musical’s" Zac Efron) who lands a bit part in the show. Conventional by Linklater’s standards, the film is a thoroughly entertaining production that doesn’t over-stylize the period-piece elements. As Welles, Christian McKay dominates the screen, nailing the unique blend of pomposity and creative inspiration associated with the character’s fascinating mythology. At the screening, Linklater described the movie as an exploration of "the blessing and curse of those compelling to put on a show."
Although it doesn’t make a big deal out of the fact that Welles was only in his early twenties at the time, the movie offers plenty of insight into the incessant creative energies that he constantly brought to his projects.
Linklater plans to open the movie later this year, and noted before the screening that he was violating a cardinal rule by showing the movie at SXSW, since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September and has since landed a distribution deal.
"There was no way we were going to keep this out of Janet Pierson’s first SXSW," said Linklater, referring to Pierson’s inaugural year as the head of the festival. (Pierson, the wife of veteran indie producer John Pierson, said that Linklater was responsible for her decision to move to Austin years ago.)
Yesterday, Linklater appeared at the Austin Convention Center with director Todd Haynes, whose cult hit "Superstar" screened at the festival as another top secret entry (the movie, which uses Barbie dolls to explore bulimia, contains copyrighted music and can’t officially show anywhere). Linklater recalled meeting Haynes at the Independent Feature Project’s Independent Film Week in 1988, before either hit it big.
"The good thing is you have a body of work that people can refer to," Linklater said, in reference to both of their careers. "The bad thing is you have a body of work."