Magician: The Astonishing Life of Orson Welles

Director: Chuck Workman (2015)

There’s plenty of magic but little mystery in this documentary of Orson Welles, the hugely talented cinematic showman and raconteur.

It’s an enjoyable and celebratory rocket-ride through the much repeated highlights of his extraordinary career but has nothing new to say.

Best known as the star, director, producer and co-writer of his masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941) at the precocious age of 25, it draws on photographs, illustrations, interviews, clips of his work and footage from his many TV interviews.

His work casts a long expressionist shadow from which emerge a host of top drawer filmmakers to pay homage. These include directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater.

However Tim Burton doesn’t feature which is surprising considering how much debt his work owes to Welles. The director even featured Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio) as a character in his finest work, the biopic Ed Wood (1994).

Various other screen portrayals of Welles are seen: Christian McKay in Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (2008), Jean Guerin in Heavenly Creatures (1994), Liev Schreiber in RKO281 (1999) and even John Candy in a TV skit opposite Billy Crystal.

All of which underline the stature in which he is held, as well as cementing his place in popular culture.

With the contributors agreeing Welles is a titan of cinema, no-one says a word in anger against him and there’s absolutely no muck-raking.

It’s an excellent introduction to the work of a man who above all else was a consummate if unreliable story-teller.

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