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Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014)

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A look at the life and work of the great theatre, radio and film artist.


Chuck Workman
2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Orson Welles ... Himself (archive footage)
Simon Callow ... Himself
Christopher Welles Christopher Welles ... Herself (as Christopher Welles Feder)
Joanne Hill Styles Joanne Hill Styles ... Herself
Norman Lloyd ... Himself
Micheál MacLiammóir ... Himself (archive footage)
Ruth Ford ... Herself (archive footage)
Julie Taymor ... Herself
Paolo Cherchi Usai Paolo Cherchi Usai ... Himself
Norman Corwin ... Himself (archive footage)
Peter Bogdanovich ... Himself
James Naremore James Naremore ... Himself
William Alland William Alland ... Himself (archive footage)
Reggie Armour Reggie Armour ... Himself (archive footage)
Steven Spielberg ... Himself


Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles looks at the remarkable genius of Orson Welles on the eve of his centenary - the enigma of his career as a Hollywood star, a Hollywood director (for some a Hollywood failure), and a crucially important independent filmmaker. Orson Welles's life was magical: a musical prodigy at age 10, a director of Shakespeare at 14, a painter at 16, a star of stage and radio at 20, romances with some of the most beautiful women in the world, including Rita Hayworth. His work was similarly extraordinary, most notably Citizen Kane, (considered by many to be the most important movie ever made), created by Welles when he was only 25. In the years following Citizen Kane, Welles's career continued to change as he made film after film (some never finished, many dismissed) and acted in other projects often to earn money in order to keep making his own films. Magician features scenes from almost every existing Welles film, from Hearts of Age, (which he ... Written by Anonymous

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Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for brief language, some suggestive images/nudity and smoking | See all certifications »






Release Date:

30 November 2015 (Italy) See more »

Also Known As:

Il mago - L'incredibile vita di Orson Welles See more »


Box Office


$813,505 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$7,130, 14 December 2014

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (theatrical)


Color (Black & White and Color)
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


When the paternity of Welles's alleged son is mentioned, one of the photographs which is shown and purported to be of Welles is actually a photograph of Vincent D'Onofrio, who played Welles in Ed Wood. See more »


Features Too Much Johnson (1938) See more »

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User Reviews

Inept documentary about a towering personality
24 November 2014 | by lor_See all my reviews

MAGICIAN is a dud - a less than mediocre run-through of the life and career of the legendary entertainment figure Orson Welles. I caught a theatrical screening Saturday that proved to be a complete waste of time.

Contrast this loser with the 2007 documentary SPINE TINGLER!, which informatively and entertainingly profiled schlockmeister William Castle. Unlike Welles, Castle is a mere footnote in film history, but the portrait of him was lively, to the point, and even created an emotional connection (bordering on pathos) when looking at his declining years and premature death - the elements sorely lacking in MAGICIAN.

Director Chuck Workman is famous and lauded in some circles (not mine) for his career in compilations (more accurately excerpts) -often responsible for the abbreviated Academy Awards show's highlight reels of great moments in film. I find him to be a master of trivializing, taking works of art ranging from a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon to any number of great feature films and extracting a cute or memorable moment from each, then juxtaposing them together for generally idiotic effect (e.g., a montage of famous screen kisses). I'm old-fashioned: I like to sit through an entire cartoon or movie, even endlessly long ones like BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, THE DECALOGUE or SHOAH. My dreaded "high-brow" satire would be a Saturday Night Live tribute to Jacques Rivette by Workman (or perhaps Tom Schiller, pick your poison) consisting of fleeting clips from his brilliant but notoriously long feature films.

And so it is not surprising to me that Workman trivializes Orson Welles' life and career. Most of MAGICIAN consists of old interviews with Welles or other deceased witnesses, ranging from Sydney Pollack to John Houseman. Ken Burns has made a career treating subjects for whom living witnesses are few or nil but through eloquent narration and sometimes readings by talented actors has brought them to life. Where Workman does have a live testimonial the results are - you guessed it- trivial: Welles biographer Simon Callow is a terrific actor and erstwhile director himself, but his comments are unenlightening; Welles' longtime companion Oja Kodar (who I saw give a highly educational talk on Welles decades ago when she presented excerpts of his unfinished films including THE DEEP and THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND) is totally wasted in an interview that makes her out to be a flake; Welles experts Peter Bogdanovich and Joe McBride plus recently deceased Paul Mazursky briefly have minimal information to contribute; and Francis Coppola's longtime editor Walter Murch is strictly footnote material discussing the "improvements" (this seems to be a cottage industry) in Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL that have been made by re-editing the Universal re-edited picture. Perhaps meant to insult on purpose, Workman even works in comments by Wolfgang Puck (!) concerning Welles' famous appetite. Thanks a lot, Chuck.

To further trivialize matters, Workman insists on including numerous film homages to Welles, such as clips from DAY FOR NIGHT, ED WOOD and the TV movie about KANE starring Liev Schreiber. There is more junk like this than attention to Welles' voluminous screen acting career which gets short shrift other than references to how "in demand" he was. The controversy regarding Welles vs. Herman Mankiewicz in apportioning authorship to CITIZEN KANE (screenwriting-wise) is obfuscated rather than clarified by this worthless documentary.

For someone who knows little to nothing about Orson Welles the film hits the familiar clichés -his boy wonder achievements dating back to childhood and growing up in Woodstock; mercurial milestones in theater and radio, triumph and fall in Hollywood and latter years as true independent filmmaker. For me it amounted to a mass of generally misleading information (frequent claims that FALSTAFF not KANE is his true masterpiece) and significant omissions (his Kodar period sloughed off and his long collaboration with the late talented pornographer Gary Graver (more famous as Welles' cameraman) ignored.

No need to worry - I suspect another filmmaker, perhaps even Burns or his brother Ric, will conjure up a suitable treatment of the renaissance man Welles. In the meantime MAGICIAN instantly belongs on the scrap heap of bad movies which, to paraphrase Theodore Sturgeon in his famous quote about science fiction, make up 90% of film history ("but then 90% of everything is crud").

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