No single feature-length documentary on the director of "Citizen Kane" is ever going to fully portray the scope of Orson Welles' triumphs, deflations and career eccentricities. Even Welles biographer Simon Callow is taking three volumes with it.
But Chuck Workman's documentary "Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles" feels almost willfully highlight-intensive, an archival/editing dare for this clip-assembly master to touch on as many elements as possible, as quickly as possible.
Entertaining though it often is, zipping from Welles' boy-wonder days in stage and radio (Mercury Theatre, "The War of the Worlds") to the notorious 1940s film studio battles ("The Magnificent Ambersons") and finally his duo life as a paycheck-cashing screen ham and fiercely independent moviemaker ("Chimes at Midnight"), Workman's movie is low on new or lasting insight. It even pads with moments from more recent biopics ("RKO 281," "Me and Orson Welles"), and often leaves interview excerpts — from the living and the long-deceased — feeling too abbreviated.
There's plenty of cineaste joy to be had from stills and footage of the artist and his films, however, including bits from Welles' countless unfinished projects, like "Don Quixote."
"Magician" may not be its own rich experience, but like Workman's many breathlessly compiled odes to the history of movies, it'll certainly spur a meaty living room film festival.