It's easy now to look back upon the vast body of someone's cinematic work and proclaim genius. To fervently salivate over each film, whether well-known or unfinished in attempts to devour each of their artistry. That's simple to do because as our tastes turn, we can retrospectively say, "they were ahead of their time. Bravo."
From where we sit now, thirty years after his death and a hundred years after his birth, it would seem at odds with his acclaim to say Orson Welles work was similar to that of the likes of Van Gough. This is the man who created renowned film Citizen Kane, his official directorial debut! But just seconds into documentary Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, you know that his later life and career were far from acclaimed.
This is an intellectually and wittily edited film where Workman balances stock footage of Welles' films with interviews. The icon himself often delivering punchlines to his stories, the enthralling nature of this documentary centres on his eloquent rolling speech, natural humour and determination. Conveying both the hilarity and the insistence of Welles, Workman captures the essence of a man who never gave up on filmmaking - pouring his heart, money and soul into making art. Workman, and his merry band of interviewees, capture this intricately whilst still giving Welles a voice that has starkly been missing from our lives.
Where Workman falters in his film is skimming chunks of Welles’ more successful artistic life, such as the stage productions and theatrical work, in favour of scrutinising an industry that nearly choked the passion out of him. Though, arguably, the world of Welles’ is too vast and plentiful that this is less a failure of Workman and more a struggle to compact everything into the documentary without over-saturating the movie. Rather than drifting seamlessly over everything, Workman chooses to concentrate on his directing skill and for that, unearths secret a plebeian Welles fan may not know - especially the abhorrent strange-hold the industry had on a man who was simply passionate about the filmmaking business.
There is no denying the rippling effect that Welles had on directing and films that, as BFI enter an entire season in celebration, we’re all feeling the wave of talent lap upon us once more. Magician serves as a testament to a monument that left a gigantic legacy unmatched by those who followed (sorry everyone). Whilst the documentary doesn’t make new ground in his story, especially to those well-rehearsed in his life, it still illuminates with his presence and terrifically spotlights his directing career.
It will be part of the BFI's Orson Welles Season: Awesome Welles. Read about it now.
Also read our reviews of The Third Man and Citizen Kane