|'Workman paints a picture of a man who was never at peace with the Hollywood system and who only sporadically fulfilled his promise of genius'|
Magician: The Astonishing Life And Work Of Orson Welles is a somewhat curious Documentary, which seems in form and title to suggest that it is definitive and yet which manages to condense the life and times of its subject into a mere ninety-one minutes (cut by three minutes from the theatrical release).
Quite how those two things were balanced in the minds of the film-makers will remain a mystery, but there seems scant enough content here to suggest that the film is the final say on Welles and, somewhat flippantly, you could accuse director Chuck Workman of needing to do more if he is, indeed, 'astonished' by Welles and his work. There's something grating about that title, not only in its unsuitability to what is otherwise a perfectly serviceable Documentary, but also in its dedication to an unnecessary adjective.
Minor editorial griping aside, Workman's work does give you the precis of Welles from beginning to end, including his background in amateur dramatics and then professional theatre, leading up to his troubled time in the film industry. Welles, now most often remembered for Citizen Kane, may have struck gold with that, his first film, but in the years following Workman paints a picture of a man who was never at peace with the Hollywood system and who only sporadically fulfilled his promise of genius (in Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight, for example). Quite who was responsible for that remains generally unconfirmed. Welles' predilection for uncompleted projects is here, but so too is a reverence for his 'outsider' approach.
The balance between Welles' life and work too is off, but probably all the better for it. His womanising and general under performance as a father does get a mention, but the salacious details are perhaps wisely omitted. Instead, the more scholarly side of the film, which features Welles' biographers prominently, including Simon Callow, comes to the fore.
As a 'starter for ten' Magician: The Astonishing Life And Work Of Orson Welles is a good offering. For anyone familiar with Welles only via the likes of Citizen Kane and The Third Man, Workman's film provides a level of insight and context. When you think about it: just how did it come to pass that the revered director of Kane provided a notable cameo in a relatively small production, shooting in Austria? This film has the answer but for any deeper or more detailed insight into Welles, you'll need to follow-up elsewhere.