Posted June 27, 2015 by editor in Film Reviews

Magician: The Astonishing Life And Work Of Orson Welles Review


We are long overdue on a documentary on Orson Welles and Magician perhaps answers the question of why. Quite simply there is far too much detail in this one man’s career to cover in full satisfying effect in one feature.

90 minutes is a respectable time for a documentary – but for a man whose life was so littered with historic event after historic event you’d half expect by now that there should have been a documentary miniseries on the man and his life. 90 minutes cannot do justice to the life, but it can layout the ground work which Magician does nicely.

Welles had an impactful life on theatre and radio long before his time in film. He put on legendary productions of Othello, Julius Ceaser, and The Cradle Will Rock (for some dramatic insight into some of these check out the films Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater) and Cradle Will Rock (Tim Robbins), as these events are brushed over in the documentary, or not mentioned at all). His time on radio always points at his work on The Shadow, but more often than not we are directed to the legendary production of War of the Worlds that panicked America. This is picked up on, but played largely for laughs as we see a young Welles in the aftermath apologizing on camera to the press and claiming ignorance to the implied effects of the show.

His Film career is given more focus as it passes down the dozen or so movies he directed, as well as a few notable acting jobs along the way – charting his success (or failures more appropriately) as he strived against the studio system.

Magician doesn’t get under the surface, but it does provide an insight into a great man and his work, and it perhaps does this in an entertaining way that doesn’t diminish his work, but will reel in new fans who can go and explore the history and find out for themselves what may have actually happened.

Simon Callow pops up as one of the modern day historians – who has himself had two books published on Welles (With a third on the way). Perhaps he could well be the man to approach for a moiré in depth look at the work in future, or even a dramatic reconstruction of this life outside of his written biographies.

Steven Hurst