Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles Screen 9 articles

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles


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  • Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, however, is basically a clip show that dutifully covers all of the big beats of the generally accepted narrative without forging any new ground, offering a passable but mostly uninspired 101 summation of the filmmaker and raconteur. Director Chuck Workman simply compiles Welles's greatest moments, offering little in the way of an authorial point of view.

  • Like one of those machines that can inhale a car and spit out a tidy cube of squashed components, “Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles” is a near-indigestible lump of clips and quips and snipped opinions. Assembled chronologically and delivered at warp speed (there’s enough astonishment here for double the 94-minute running time), this potted history of one of our rarest moviemaking talents offers nothing new for fans and seems likely to overwhelm the uninitiated.

  • The enviable access feels squandered on a tired organizational structure, one with the expected Kane cliff-hanger and not enough time spent on the crucial matter of Welles’s own inability to focus. For all its cattiness, the recently published My Lunches with Orson goes deeper into the psychology of a legendary gasbag, peeved when due deference isn’t paid.

  • Sight & Sound: Michael Atkinson
    June 05, 2015 | July 2015 Issue (pp. 82-83)

    Workman's agenda, as it has always been through his 30-year-plus career of celebrity docs and promotional films, is to put an effortless gloss on the cultural history, suitable for a mezzo-educated primetime. Thus, a degree of triviality is employed (restaurateur Wolfgang Puck is quizzed about watching Welles eat), and interviews are chopped into often puzzlingly fragmented soundbites.

  • [The film] couldn’t be more nuts and bolts if ram-raided B&Q in a monster truck. A prestige, linear retelling of the actor-director-raconteur-gourmand’s life which he would have – if his on-screen persona is to be believed – obviously despised for its drab conventionality, the film is a standard mix of gushing archive interviews and snippets from his movies, many of which were never completed during his lifetime.

  • If this documentary is swift and witty, that’s in part because it relies heavily on clips of Orson Welles talking. And oh, how Welles could talk, that beautiful voice wrapping itself around tall tales and wine commercials with equal grace.

  • “Magician” is hardly a definitive account of the inordinately complex actor and creator that was Welles—at a mere 94 minutes, it could more accurately be deemed the tip of an iceberg—but it offers a not-bad education for folks who aren’t as familiar with the man and his work as they ought to be, and a few not insubstantial satisfactions for folks like myself, who agree with Jean-Luc Godard’s assessment of the man and his work: “All of us will always owe him everything.”

  • Less important [than Around the World with Orson Welles], but still valuable, Workman’s Magician (in which — full disclosure — I make some brief appearances), aimed at casual mainstream viewers more than Welles specialists, is still to my mind the most serious and accurate of all the English-language documentaries about Welles, despite a few quibbles (e.g., the rather indiscriminate uses of soundtrack scores and a few contestable “facts”).

  • A true magician never reveals his secrets—perhaps, in part, because he himself can’t quite pin down the alchemy that results in genuine artistry. It’s enough for Workman to simply assemble a patchwork of Welles in his myriad incarnations (as the hearty Falstaff in Chimes At Midnight; as The Third Man’s cynical Harry Lime; as a sharp, vital youth and a sharp, frail elder) and allow the many faces to confirm, contradict, and, ultimately, speak for themselves.

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