Magician: The Astonishing Life And Work Of Orson Welles

**1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Magician: The Astonishing Life And Work Of Orson Welles
"Described in this film as the "patron saint of independent filmmakers" and with his work marked by ambition and a desire to push boundaries, it's a shame that this documentary about Orson Welles by Chuck Workman is, well, so workman-like."

Described in this film as the "patron saint of independent filmmakers" and with his work marked by ambition and a desire to push boundaries, it's a shame that this documentary about Orson Welles by Chuck Workman is, well, so workman-like.

Charting the Citizen Kane director's life in manageable chunks that could easily have been culled from Wikipedia - eg 1915-41 The Boy Wonder or 1949-57 The Gypsy (a particularly odd choice of label given its more modern derogatory connotations) - Workman's documentary proceeds through Welles' life and career in the manner of a factual checklist. Talking heads abound, from Welles' biographer Simon Callow (informative) to Peter Bogdanovich (occasionally meting out an interesting anecdote). These are interspersed with large chunks of Welles' films, including key scenes from Citizen Kane, The Third Man and The Lady From Shanghai, and snippets of interview with the man himself, all overlaid by an incessant soundtrack that often dominates.

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Despite the firm timeline, it has a scrappy feel, as though Workman was uncertain how to corral all the information and he underplays the most crucial aspect that sets a filmed documentary above a written one - emotion. There are glimmers of heart in a conversation with Croatian actress Oja Kodar, Welles' partner for more than two decades, or in brief conversations with his daughter Christopher Welles Feder but Workman by and large seems determined to present just the facts. He's happy to talk about what Welles did, but less willing to dig about under the surface to examine his motivations. He also gathers up other people's work - such as a BBC Arena profile of the great man, which knocks this into a cocked hat - like a merciless magpie without adding anything particularly new and shiny of his own.

As a primer that might encourage non-Welles' fans to seek out his films, it succeeds on a basic level. But you long for Welles to arrive in his cape, throw back the curtain and reveal another, more flamboyant and fitting documentary that would celebrate and explore his life and work more fully rather than subduing it.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2015
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Documentary tracking the director and actor.
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