Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Amazing Orson Welles Doc Opens Today in New York: A Controversial Genius’ Story


“Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles” opens today and this weekend around the country. Chuck Workman, better known for his own astonishing archival projects, made the film about genius Welles because- -he had to, that’s all. Chuck, if you don’t know, edits all the clip packages for the Oscars, edits the Academy Awards show, and makes his own films. He’s the Citizen Kane of clips. (I don’t know what that means but it sounds good.)

“Magician,” like “Red Army” and a few others, didn’t make the Oscar shortlist this year. But it’s more than well-worth seeing. Welles died in the mid-80s. He seemed old then and seems old now. He’s mythic. That’s why it’s surprising to know his daughter, Chris Welles, is 76 and has lived in downtown Manhattan for 40 years. Welles had three girls, each with a different wife. His second daughter, by Hollywood icon Rita Hayworth, died a few years ago. His other living daughter, Beatrice, I gather lives in Europe and is not happy about “Magician.” (She couldn’t control it. That’s what makes it a documentary.)

But she should be. There’s nothing derogatory about her mother. Workman simply tells Welles’ story. The director was 26 and new to Hollywood when he made his first film, “Citizen Kane.” Imagine that his first film is considered the greatest cinematic achievement of all time. Now what? Welles battled excesses, battled himself, and the studios for the rest of his life.

The fact is, he was a genius, outsized and well beyond anything we have today. “Magician” is kind of a must-see for anyone interested in film. It’s incredibly entertaining, and fills in some major blanks — this is stuff than can’t be found on Wikipedia.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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