Magician: the Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles – Review by Frank L.
Director: Chuck Workman
Stars: Peter Bogdanovich, Orson Welles
Orson Welles would, if he had lived, have been one hundred this year. He reached the age of seventy which was pretty magnificent given the life which he led… he was rarely photographed without some tobacco product either in his hand or mouth. In addition as Wolfgang Puck, the celebrated chef, states in the film he adored food and at the end of his life he carried the inevitable results.
Chuck Workman tells the story of Orson’s life in chronological sequence the first part being entitled “child prodigy” which was not an exaggeration. Indeed at the tender age of sixteen in 1931 he had bluffed his way into the Gate Theatre, Dublin by pretending he was nineteen and where he stayed for six months gradually descending from leading roles to lesser parts. Workman includes a splendid clip of Micheal MacLiammoir, suitably powdered, speaking in his full rounded tones of that remarkable early demonstration of Welles’ self-belief. His physical frame and the force of his personality ensured that he was noticed.
Workman recounts the remarkable theatrical production of “Julius Caesar” in 1937, the celebrated radio spoof “The War of the Worlds” in 1938 which many listeners believed to be true and the 1941 film “Citizen Kane” which he wrote, directed and acted. All this achieved by the tender age of twenty six. He was an outsider in Hollywood and as a result throughout his life he never found a base from which he continuously worked as he moved backwards and forwards to Europe and America over the ensuing years. His married life was similarly unstable and produced three wives but his longstanding relationship over his last twenty years was with a woman who was not his wife. All of this constant motion meant that his legacy of films is far smaller than one would expect. However he was always innovative and pushing at the boundaries. That is why he remains an immense figure in the world of cinema.
Workman shows why Welles was great and explains how often he was thwarted by the money men. At the end of this documentary, there is a strong desire to learn more about Welles’ cinematic work and to see the films, flaws and all. Orson Welles was larger than life in more senses than one and thirty years after his death, Workman brings him back to life for a new, younger audience in this generous documentary.