Orson Welles (1915-1985) was a man of enormous appetites — for storytelling, power, sex, food and other indulgences — matched only by an outsize talent. But who doesn’t already know that about the groundbreaking director of “Citizen Kane” and “Touch of Evil”?
“Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles” will astonish only those who somehow missed the original memo about the great man’s genius, as well as the footnote about Welles’s infamous failures, flops and half-finished projects, of which “Evil” was one. (Recut by the studio, against Welles’s wishes, the 1958 film noir wasn’t released in the form the director intended until after his death.)
On the occasion of the centennial of Welles’s birth, filmmaker Chuck Workman has created a dutiful but slightly dull celebration of the multitalented impresario, who also was an actor, writer and set and costume designer, and whose creative energies stretched from theater to radio to the silver screen. As Welles said of his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast — which catapulted him from an enfant terrible of the New York theater world to a national celebrity in 1938 with a presentation so frighteningly real that many listeners thought Martians were actually attacking Earth — “I didn’t go to jail; I went to Hollywood.”
“Magician” features the usual talking heads. Filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich and Richard Linklater, critic Elvis Mitchell, stage director Julie Taymor and various biographers join a parade of Welles’s friends and colleagues to reminisce about and praise Welles (who also appears, in old interviews). It’s all very interesting, if also a bit too much like an awards show tribute. Workman, who won a 1987 Academy Award for his short film “Precious Images,” a clip reel of cinema classics, is a longtime editor and director of the Oscars telecasts.
Young cinephiles who wonder why everyone keeps calling “Citizen Kane” the best film ever made may still wonder that after watching “Magician.” The movie marches so quickly past the many milestones of Welles’s career and life that it doesn’t have to time to linger — lovingly or otherwise — on any of them.
PG-13. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains brief coarse language, nudity and smoking. 94 minutes.