Magician: The astonishing life and work of Orson Welles

‘Boy wonder’ Orson Welles was only 24 when he made CitizenKane. For several reason, it was not a success, but over the years the film developed the reputation as the best film aver made. Chuck Workman’s Magician: The astonishing life and work of Orson Welles is an amusing glance at the great filmmaker’s life. But you cannot really do a serious analysis of the man and his films in only 91 minutes. There is a brief look at his childhood. Then his early success in theatre, including Macbeth performed by black actors (known as Voodoo Macbeth), The cradle will rock, very important productions in the history of American theatre. And then came the most famous radio broadcast of all time. In 1938, The war of the world adapted from H. G. Wells, scared Americans who believed the fictional news reports of a Martian invasion. A contract with RKO pictures gave Welles a two movie deal with complete control over the finished films. CitizenKane was the first of those films. But Welles never had the final edit on any of his other Hollywood films. No matter how great they are, The magnificent Amberson, The lady from Shanghai and Touch of evil were pulled from his control and edited by the studios. He is sometimes at fault for that: The films often lagged behind schedule and over budget or he was busy working on radio broadcasts or plays. His other films were made in Europe. To finance them Welles did theatre, acted in mostly mediocre films and made several guest appearances in variety TV series (such as The Dean Martin celebrity roast). A look at his filmography reveals the sad truths: There are more unfinished and aborted films, than completed films. Beside CitizenKane, there are beautiful masterpieces, and as an actor, Welles has a thunderous presence (Touch of evil and Chimes at midnight are good examples of that). His last great film was Chimes at midnight in 1965. Workman interviews childhood friends, supporters (like film scholar and director Peter Bogdanovich), his last companion Oja Kodar, and on archives, Charlton Heston and Anthony Perkins. Although this is not the most insightful film about Welles, it is still worth a look.

Good read… Pauline Kael (1919 – 2001) was considered one of the best American film reviewer. In her long essay, Raising Kane, Kael writes that Welles did not co-authored CitizenKane. She also writes about the people CitizenKane was based on: newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (1863 – 1951) and his mistress, actress Marion Davies (1897 – 1961). Although Kael’s theories and research have been rebutted, there are still some questions worth asking. Raising Kane can be read here:


Rémi-Serge Gratton

Magician: The astonishing life and work of Orson Welles

Directed by:

Chuck Workman

91 min.

Rated Parental Guidance