What is clear from the mandatory early years section is that flair and daring were always a key part of Welles’s psychological make-up. We see his natural gift for entertainment as a musical prodigy, stage director and radio producer all while still in his teens. Then his courage as he travels to Dublin at the age of sixteen and successfully auditions with only his sheer bravado to win over the theatre manager. Interviewees like lifelong friend Peter Bogdanovich and Simon Callow all speak of Welles’s adventures with a strong sense of reverence. It borders on worship but there is sincerity to it throughout.
While the documentary covers some well-trod ground, Welles’s conflicts with studio interference, Citizen Kane’s limited theatrical run, the film features its fair share of surprises. The director’s lesser recognised theatrical work, most notably the controversial Voodoo Macbeth, is given a thorough look. this was perhaps the earliest indication of how ahead of his time the auteur was (Welles was an outspoken critic of segregation), as well as the sheer scale of his imagination.
Inevitably the film takes on a melancholy tone after the success of Citizen Kane. So much of his later work is tinged with sadness at the never-ending fight for financial backing and never quite matching the success of his magnum opus. The acting roles he undertook to help fund his projects are presented as compromises, with almost a sense of shame around them, made worse for knowing that many of his films remain unfinished.
If Magician has one great weakness though it is that, like many pieces on Welles, it never seems to delve into the grim details of his early life. His father’s alcoholism, his mother’s death and his feud with his mother’s partner are all skimmed over. Likewise his tumultuous relationships, in fact his marriage to Rita Hayworth barely warrants a mention. Workman’s film is a celebration, true, but people love to celebrate a man who has risen so high in spite of his struggles. Nor should any celebration of Welles shy away from his less admirable traits, after all, as The Third Man taught us, people love a bad guy.
Yet as a celebration Magician undeniably succeeds to be funny, dramatic and very uplifting. A veritable highlights reel featuring the War of the Worlds broadcast, Kane, The Third Man and the influence they had on cinema to come. Everything from From contemporary filmmakers ranging from Martian Scorsese to Richard Linklater all of whom show due respect to an undisputed master.