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For Your Consideration: 'Magician'

The 100th anniversary of Orson Welles's birth will be celebrated next month. A new documentary, Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, attempts to boil down to ninety minutes the arc of a remarkable life, sifting through many of Welles's achievements and shortcomings to get at the heart of who he was. Certainly, he was the director of what most cinéphiles agree is the greatest film in history, Citizen Kane, but it is more than that. Director Chuck Workman, who demonstrated his knowledge of the history of American film by condensing it into a marvelous seven minutes in his short film Precious Images, brings together clips of Welles's greatest movies and other work (in radio and theater), many salient excerpts of Welles speaking about his work, and directors Steven Spielberg, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Julie Taymor, Costa-Gavras, Peter Brook, Sydney Pollack, among others, giving homage.

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In the space he has given himself, though, Workman can only scratch the surface, meaning that Citizen Kane and every other project receive minimal attention. The goal is not so much to have the final word on any part of the Welles canon -- something that is probably best left to another genre, like the biography being prepared by Simon Callow, who is among those interviewed here -- as to get a broad picture of an enormous subject. Included are snatches of Welles's many tantalizing but ultimately unfinished projects, as well as tributes to Welles in other films (Ed Wood, Get Shorty, Woody Allen's Radio Days). So, Magician is hardly the last word on Orson Welles, but it is an entertaining and compact appreciation of him, of a director who bucked the studio system. "Welles stands above everybody's work," as director Richard Linklater puts it in the film. "I think every filmmaker has some relation with Welles. If nothing else, you know, he created the air we breathe. In that regard, he is the patron saint of independent filmmakers."

This film is now playing at the E Street Cinema.

1 comment:

MUSE said...

I shall watch it. Thanks.