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MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Director: Chuck Workman
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Studio: Cohen Film Collection
Features: Interview with Annette Insdorf, Trailer
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: May 26, 2015

I always liked Hollywood very much. It just wasn’t reciprocated.”

Film ***

Having review a number of Orson Welles’ films over the years at DMC, as well as films about him or featuring him as a player, it was nice to sit down to a documentary like Magician and see a humorous, fact-filled, and somewhat sad tribute to the man and his indelible work.

It wasn’t really because I learned anything new about Welles; I had taken it upon myself to study the cinematic master’s life and art as a student. He is definitely perfect subject matter for a documentary. Really, I think any director’s dream would be to pay tribute to the man who enriched the vocabulary of film so much that we are still feeling the effects in the new millennium. Director Chuck Workman does just that with his offering.

It occurs to me that in my writings about Welles, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about my first impression of him. As a child growing up in the 70s, I knew nothing of Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil or anything else the man had created. I sadly only knew him from his wine commercials and cameo appearances, usually where he kidded his own image. Who could ever forget him preparing the standard “rich and famous” contract for Kermit the Frog and friends in The Muppet Movie?

It was really only after his passing that I began to hear what a legendary force he was in the art form of cinema, and how immeasurable his contributions actually were. How did he go from a boy genius, who made arguably the greatest (certainly most influential) motion picture of all time to a celebrity anomaly?

The sad truth is, the studios turned their backs on him, making it harder and harder for him to finance his picture or to do the work the way he wanted. They touted his genius openly, but behind the scenes couldn’t wait to re-cut and commercialize his work, possibly leaving some of cinema’s greatest footage lost forever.

Magician focuses on the three main chapters of Welles’ life, from rise to acclaim, to cinematic nomad, to eventually…how shall I put this nicely?...a figure for whom it seemed the world was waiting for him to die just so they could finally honor his legacy.

It’s a shame and nearly a crime that he died leaving so much unfinished work, doing parts like the Muppet cameo just to try and keep his own cameras rolling. His dream project of Don Quixote was left in piecemeal shambles. Even Chimes at Midnight, the film some call his true greatest work, eclipsing even Kane, can’t be owned because of a legal dispute, and is hard to view.

Yet through what must have been tremendous sadness, Welles remained a charming and even funny character, willing to deflate his own image, and willing to open up and talk with humor and candor about all aspects of his great rise and fall. It’s those images of Welles that make Magician an entertaining, if not entirely enlightening, production.

Video ***

This is a nice high definition offering from the Cohen Film Collection…most of the modern footage is in widescreen, with plenty of vintage footage in full frame, but it’s the modern interviews with stars and collaborators that show what the Blu-ray is most capable of. Nicely done!

Audio **

There is not much demand on the HD mix; most of the footage is dialogue, but a few punctuations from classic scores like Citizen Kane and The Third Man make it a pleasant listen.

Features *

There is a nice interview with critic and author Annette Insdorf, and the original trailer.

Summary:

Magician tells the long, strange, inspiring, sad and funny tale of one of the true legends of film, Orson Welles. I didn’t personally learn anything new here, but spending 90 minutes in the company of a true genius and self-proclaimed charlatan is always enjoyable.

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