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

Is it possible to love the cinema and not love Orson Welles? It would be like loving Christmas but not rating Santa Claus; he’s the guy who provides the magic. And they’ve both got beards.

The documentary Magician is not Welles-level filmmaking, but it’s a decent overview of the man who lived a fuller life than Charles Foster Kane. The main drawback is its length – only 96 minutes. Separated into chapters covering 10-20 year periods, each of these would have enough material to fill an hour and a half and then some. Welles’ life was not exactly without incident or creative endeavour. The dude just never stopped doing – acting, writing, directing, shagging, bullshiting…and eating. Lots of eating.

Like Harry Lime, Orson Welles had many lives…

You could make a documentary just about young Welles, the Boy Wonder who dazzled the worlds of theatre and radio and thought it would be fun to make a movie.

Or just about just about Welles as an actor, in great roles such as Kane, Hank Quinlan, Falstaff etc. and whoring himself in some often quite dodgy films to finance his own productions.

Or about Old Welles, dressed up like a magician and pulling F For Fake out of his arse.

Of course, the man was a cinematic conjuror. Arguably the best film director of all time. Look at Welles’ filmography – every work is like a first film, in thrall to the medium and its possibilities. Citizen Kane is the one everyone bangs on about but the artistic (if not commercial) hits just kept on coming: The Magnificent Ambersons, Macbeth, Othello, Touch of Evil, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight. Even later on in his life, and to be honest not looking too hot, Welles made F For Fake, one of the great achievements in cinema. But that’s a blog for another day…

Magician is available on DVD from the BFI.

Sam Bowles


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