The Eyes of Orson Welles

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Mark Cousins

Starring

Beatrice Welles Mark Cousins Orson Welles

Anticipation.

Mark Cousins locks horns with one of the titans of cinema.

Enjoyment.

A very personal (too personal?) journey through the films of Orson Welles.

In Retrospect.

The incredible material helps the film take flight. Bring on the major gallery exhibition.

Mark Cousins returns with an essay feature on the doodles and draftsmanship of Orson Welles.

The experience of watching Mark Cousins’ The Eyes of Orson Welles is a little like gatecrashing an exclusive soirée – it’s a fun lark in the abstract, but do you really want to be hanging around with a bunch of people who are visibly irked by your presence? It is another of the director’s ethereal dissertations, this time forming a daisy chain between Orson Welles’ sketches of figures, landscapes and film sets to the films themselves and also to classic painting which, per Cousins, is the artform by which all others should be measured.

The director/curator frames his narration as a personal dialogue with the late maestro, which involves awkwardly reminding his subject of all the films he’s made plus namechecking a list of his stellar achievements. Some may jump on this this as a jolly, innovative storytelling device – a method to heard the creative cats wandering around in Welles cavernous brainpan. But the tone is toadying rather than reverential, exclusive rather then generous, as if Cousins appears to have little interest in acting as a conduit for or advocate of Welles’ inarguably sublime output.

The nature of the narration makes it sound like the director is craving affirmation rather than accepting his own status as a trusted and objective scholar – like he would rather be talking to the big man himself than imparting wit and wisdom to those who might not be operating on the same intellectual plane. The film initially shows Cousins transporting a casket of artwork to his home in Edinburgh and later meeting with Welles’ quick-witted daughter, Beatrice who, sadly, gets barely a look-in.

The film is made up of clips (many extraordinary) from Welles’ perfectly imperfect back catalogue and some eccentric TV appearances, all of which are spliced together with tasteful stills of various ad-hoc drawings and doodles. There are some banal suggestions that the multi-hyphenate godhead would’ve wiped the floor with the current wave of fake news fanaticism and he would have consistently broken the internet with his media-savvy antics had he been around today.

Despite its title, this is as much a film about Cousins as it is about Welles – about his poetic mode of analysis, about his taste in film and art, and finally, about a unfulfilled desire to buddy up with one of the 20th century’s towering cultural figures.

Published 15 Aug 2018

Tags: Mark Cousins Orson Welles

Anticipation.

Mark Cousins locks horns with one of the titans of cinema.

Enjoyment.

A very personal (too personal?) journey through the films of Orson Welles.

In Retrospect.

The incredible material helps the film take flight. Bring on the major gallery exhibition.

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