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Before 'Mank' releases, get to know Orson Welles better

David Fincher’s upcoming 'Mank' is about the writing of 'Citizen Kane'. Here are some documentaries that give a deeper understanding of the 1941 film's director

Orson Welles began in radio and theatre before coming to film
Orson Welles began in radio and theatre before coming to film

One of the most anticipated films of the year is David Fincher’s Mank. This biographical film looks at Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he writes Citizen Kane and collaborates with and battles director Orson Welles (Tom Burke). It’s Fincher’s first film in black and white, and his first for Netflix. With the film set to release in December, this is a great time to revisit the tempestuous genius of Orson Welles. There is a wealth of documentaries about the actor-director, several of which you can watch on YouTube. Here are six ways of seeing Orson.

The Orson Welles Story (1982)

This two-part documentary, made for BBC’s Arena series, is where you want to start for an in-depth overview of Welles' career. Scenes from his films are interspersed with reminiscences by collaborators like Charlton Heston and Jeanne Moreau. There's also a magisterial Welles, dressed all in black, with white hair and beard, pronouncing judgment on himself.

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

Chuck Workman is a veteran documentary-maker known, among other things, for creating several Oscar montages over the years. That sense of telling a broad story in a succinct manner is visible in his 2014 film Magician, a condensed life history of Welles with every talking head imaginable, from Richard Linklater to Costa-Gavras.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018)

In 2018, something miraculous happened: the release of a new Orson Welles film, 33 years after his death. The Other Side of the Wind, which he'd tried to make in the 1970s but couldn’t finish, premiered on Netflix, along with a documentary by Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) on the film’s chaotic production. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead combines archival footage with recollections by Peter Bogdanovich, who oversaw the reconstruction, and Welles’ partner and collaborator Oja Kodar

Hopper/Welles (2020)

This documentary has a tantalizing premise: Welles in conversation, back in 1970, with actor and director Dennis Hopper. Though it seems like an odd pairing, Welles probably saw Hopper as a fellow-maverick, one who shook up the system with his first film as director, Easy Rider, just as Welles had with Citizen Kane.

Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (1995)

It’s likely no other major director had as many unfinished projects to his name as Welles. The lack of funds and the unwillingness of Hollywood to see him as a vital filmmaker after the 1960s meant that he started projects when he could, sometimes seeing them through to completion, often having to abandon them. This documentary, directed by Oja Kodar and Vassili Silovic, is a tribute to those lost films, which include versions of The Merchant of Venice and Moby Dick. Rather movingly, The Other Side of the Wind, one of the films included here, is lost no longer.

The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018)

The most unusual and personal of the documentaries on this list, The Eyes of Orson Welles began when director Mark Cousins was given access to hundreds of sketches, drawings and paintings by Welles. Cousins, known for his 15-part documentary The Story of Film, uses these artworks to look back at Welles’ life and career through his own eyes, as it were, layering them with his idiosyncratic narration.

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