The Greatest Trick this "Magician" Pulls is Making You Want to Watch Some Orson Welles Classic Review

The ironic thing about documentaries about films or filmmakers is that the main thing you end up taking away is how much you want to go watch these other films. You’ll see clips of something that you remember fondly and want to watch it again, or you’ll see clips from something intriguing that you haven’t seen before and immediately want to seek out a copy. Either way, it’s very easy to get tempted to turn off the film you’re watching to go watch the films that it is about instead. Such is the case with Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles.

Directed and edited by Chuck Workman, the filmmaker responsible for many a montage during the Academy Awards telecasts (who happens to have won an Academy Award himself), Magician masterfully combines footage from film projects that span the entirety of Welles’ long, rambling and ever-changing career with interviews with those who knew him and worked with him--not to mention the man himself. Welles was an enigmatic genius at the best of times, and a stubborn, egotistical outsider at the worst. As an actor, he oozed charisma and made Shakespeare his servant; as a director, he tried new things with camera, editing and narrative structure that changed cinema forever. As Magician points out, because Welles knew next to nothing about filmmaking when he made Citizen Kane, he had no restraints as a filmmaker, no preconceived notions about what a film should be. Instead, he brought the audacious imaginative storytelling that he had previously brought to the stage and the radio airwaves to the screen, utilizing nonlinear narrative and deep focus cinematography to create a film the likes of which Hollywood had never seen before. We take these things for granted now, especially as not all aspects of Citizen Kane have stood the test of time; some parts of the story and performances feel silly and dated now, and Rosebud’s big reveal has become an excessively referenced pop culture joke. Nonetheless, the making of Citizen Kane could have inspired an entire documentary itself--and that’s only the beginning here.

Workman goes on to detail the saga of The Magnificent Ambersons and the studio’s determination to release a different film than the one Welles intended (a classic clash of attitudes that, with the drama surrounded the dud that is the new Fantastic Four, shows no sign leaving Hollywood in peace anytime soon). From there, Welles jumps from one project to another, some ending up finished, some not, some representative of his artistic vision, others not. Determined to try and work outside the studio system after having his heart broken by it too many times, Welles ended up becoming a truly independent filmmaker. Watching his career develop and evolve, both in front of the camera and behind it, from The Lady of Shanghai to The Third Man to Chimes of Midnight and beyond, is like feasting on fine wine and chocolate for film buffs. Yet all throughout Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles, I kept finding myself tempted to turn it off and go fully immerse myself in that work by renting one of those aforementioned films, or many of the others referenced within it, instead. Workman has put together a quality documentary tells a great story, but really, the only storyteller you need here is Welles. Why watch a film about him when you can just watch one that he made himself? His work speaks for itself, and tells his story better than anyone else ever could.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The Blu-ray release of Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles includes an interview with Columbia University film professor Annette Insdorf, a featurette and a trailer.

"Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles" is on sale May 26, 2015 and is not rated. Documentary. Directed by Chuck Workman. Starring Orson Welles.

Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 


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