Actors: Orson Welles
Director: Chuck Workman
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Surround Sound, Widescreen
Number of discs: 1
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Cohen Media Group
Release Date: May 26, 2015
Run Time: 94 minutes
Orson Welles was a fascinating person, as were his films, so any documentary about him has that element already going for it. Chuck Workman’s film, Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, provides all of the necessary stories and career points of the iconic actor/director, serving as a concise introduction for those unfamiliar with his work. As for those already fans, much of the content will seem redundant and lacking any new insight. Workman realizes that Orson is interesting enough on his own, and fails to insert any viewpoint or unique opinion of his own. This is more like a documentary that you’d expect to find in the DVD special features of an Anniversary release for Citizen Kane.
The life of Welles is split up into sections in the documentary, with the first 25 years of his life filled with all of his successes. The later years are harder to hear about, mostly because of how much he struggled to be given the freedom which made Citizen Kane a success. He was ahead of his time, and would have thrived in the auteur-friendly cinemas of today. At the time even his greatest successes after the age of 25 were altered, taken away from him, or simply unfinished and unreleased.
Before he was a filmmaker, Welles was a musical prodigy at the age of 10. He then went on to direct and act in stage Shakespeare productions at 14, after lying about his age. By the age of 20 he had established himself in radio as well, nearly being arrested for the realism of his War of the Worlds adaptation. This catapulted him to fame and early success in cinema with his first attempt, Citizen Kane. Unfortunately, the
system of his time never allowed Welles to surpass this first endeavor.
There were many obstacles in the career of Welles, and it is the various ways that his films were hindered by studio executives that take focus in Workman’s film. Though he didn’t want to be an actor, Welles often took the jobs because he needed the money and wasn’t likely to be hired as a director. He did continue to make films, little by little with his own money. Unfortunately, most of these were never really finished. Clips from these are in the documentary, along with a variety of superfluous interviews with modern filmmakers on the influence Welles had on their career.
The Blu-ray release for Magician may be somewhat unnecessary for this film, however impressive it may be in viewing each of the filmmaker’s movies. The extras include a featurette that has an additional interview with Annette Insdorf, as well as the film’s trailer.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 5/10