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Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles

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Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014)

December. 12,2014
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Combining extensive filmmaker interviews and rare archival footage, Chuck Workman’s documentary takes us through the life of one of cinema’s greatest masters: Orson Welles.


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Terrible acting, screenplay and direction.


Dreadfully Boring


The movie's neither hopeful in contrived ways, nor hopeless in different contrived ways. Somehow it manages to be wonderful

Humaira Grant

It’s not bad or unwatchable but despite the amplitude of the spectacle, the end result is underwhelming.


In spite of what another reviewer thinks, I found "Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles" to be an engrossing and fascinating documentary on one of cinema's most original artists. It is the ideal tribute in celebrating 100 years after Orson Welles was born. The interviews offer some insight into the man as well as the director and actor and the contribution from Welles biographer and actor Simon Callow is especially valuable. From the time Orson Welles decided on a career in showbusiness, he was destined to do things his way by being an individualist. Part of this may have been down to his being a Democrat and that his mother was politically very active in helping to establish women's rights. Welles was the kind of artist who would sacrifice his principles for no one, certainly not with his directing career. All this is shown via Welles' infamous clashes with "R.K.O" over his first two movies, "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons" and how Hollywood deemed the director to be virtually unemployable by the end of the 1940s. I enjoyed the section about Welles' career in radio where he created "The Mercury Theatre" which was dedicated to producing dramas of the highest quality (which they did). The discussion over the production of "War of the Worlds" is probably the career highlight for Welles as far as the medium of radio is concerned. It was a pity that Orson Welles couldn't make his version of the novel "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad. Such a film would have been the equal of "Citizen Kane" in terms of sheer cinematic value and influence. The documentary reveals that "R.K.O" insisted to Welles that he reduce the budget for his forthcoming movie "Heart of Darkness" by so much. After the director told the studio that this couldn't be done, the project was shelved indefinitely. I shalln't talk about "Citizen Kane" very much as a lot has been said about the film many a time. For myself, I have come to appreciate and to enjoy the film a good deal. The documentary shows how Orson Welles struggled to secure any financial support for his later films after his reputation throughout Hollywood proceeded him. Welles took on some acting jobs in England, so as to raise money for his film adaptations based on the work of William Shakespeare. There is discussion about Welles' work on the masterpiece, "The Third Man." It is interesting to note that even though Orson Welles is the one people remember the most from that film, his time on screen is not much and he didn't work for long on "The Third Man." I had a chuckle when the documentary revealed how Welles refused to be filmed inside the real sewers in Vienna and that an elaborate reconstruction was built at one of the British film studios - just to please him! Something that wasn't mentioned to the best of my knowledge, was the fact that Orson Welles worked on the radio shows "The Lives of Harry Lime" and "The Black Museum." Both shows are hugely entertaining and should be better known. Peter Bogdanovich talks extensively about his interviews and discussions he had with Welles and this was fascinating. To read all about their discussions, the volume "This is Orson Welles" comes highly recommended. There is interview footage with the man himself and this is essential in gaining an idea as to what made the man tick. I think the documentary offers insight into the man as well the director. Orson Welles was the kind of person who carried with him an aura of mystery and seemed to encourage people to think of him in that way. A thoroughly enjoyable documentary all round. Fans of Orson Welles should like this.


As a lifelong admirer of Orson Welles I usually feel that anything at all in which he features will be worth seeing - and then I remember things like Ferry To Hong Kong and reconsider. Magician is a once-over- lightly look at the life and times of Welles which thankfully makes no mention of Ferry To Hong Kong thus preventing me describing it accurately as a look at the life and times of Welles warts and all. If you're a Welles buff you can't really see too many clips of Chimes At Midnight even if you can, at you leisure, wallow in the whole film via the DVD now available once again. Magician also offers clips across the board from Welles the actor, Welles the Broadcaster, Welles the writer, Welles the director so it really would be churlish to ask for more

Paul Allaer

"Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles" (2014 release; 94 min.) is a documentary about the genius of Orson Welles, 'enfant terrible' of the 1940s-50s Hollywood and godfather of the indie film scene. The movie opens, of course, with the opening scene from "Citizen Kane", where we see Welles whisper "Rosebud", but after that we get a straight-forward and chronological overview of Welles' life and work. The documentary is divided up in 5 chapters, covering different periods of his life (1915-1941 The Boy Wonder; 1942-1949 The Outsider, etc.). To tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.Couple of comments: this is the latest from veteran documentary maker Chuck Workman. When I saw his name on this, I felt pretty sure that we'd be in for a great documentary. And it's certainly not a bad documentary. The movie hits all the major high (and low) lights of Welles' career (War of the Worlds; Citizen Kane; Touch of Evil; The Trial; Chimes at Midnight; etc.), and Workman compiles a treasure trove of old clips. He also interviews a bunch of people, including Peter Bogdanovich, Julie Taymor, Steven Spielberg, etc. Yet despite all that, the documentary seems to be missing something. Maybe it's because there is no true new insight or revelation, since yes, we do know that Welles was a genius who was misunderstood and/or difficult to work with. There are a couple of glimpses into Welles' personal life but the tidbit of information from that angle really doesn't add much (we are informed that one of Welles' two surviving daughters refused to cooperate in the making of this documentary). There are a number of great quotes sprinkled throughout the movie such as Orson's "I like Hollywood very much, but Hollywood just doesn't like me much", ha! or this one (about making Citizen Kane): "it wasn't about the money, it was about control". The timing of the documentary is to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Orson Welles' birth.This documentary opened this weekend without any pre-release fanfare or advertising at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. Since I love documentaries and of course admire the genius of Orson Welles, I went to see it right away. The matinée screening where I saw this at was attended okay but not great (it didn't help that midway through the movie, the fire alarm went off and we had to leave the theater temporarily). If you are new to Orson Welles, by all means take the opportunity to check this out, be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD/Blu-ray. You will be amazed. For those that are already familiar with Orson Welles, there's really nothing new in this documentary.


I was moved to review this because the one review on this page completely tore it apart. The way the reviewer wrote made me think that this person had an intense personal dislike of Chuck Workman, for some reason. So, I thought I'd look at this reviewers other reviews. And guess what? Almost all porn. So, let's just stick to the subject at hand: Orson Welles. I first became aware of Welles when I was taking a film class in college. "Citizen Kane" amazed me, not surprisingly. Welles says, in "Magician," that Gregg Toland, the great cinematographer, came to Welles and said that he (Toland) wanted very much to work with Welles on "Kane." Welles said, "Why? I've never directed a film before." And Toland said, "That's why."It was uncharted. Anything was possible. And, indeed, it was.I would encourage any Welles fan to see this. It was well worth it.