Filmmaker, critic and curator Mark Cousins returns with this highly personal and fascinating portrait of the great filmmaker Orson Welles. Dividing this odyssey into six chapters, the approach will be familiar to fans of Cousins’ work. He plays homage to the director of Citizen Kane by writing him a letter, narrated in that soft Irish lilt of his as he poses rhetorical questions and teases his subject – at one point promising to come onto his love-life. “I bet you’re looking forward to that.”
Yet the real hook for The Eyes of Orson Welles is not Cousins’ rambling heart-on-a-sleeve appreciation of his work. After a meeting with Welles’ third child, Beatrice, at Michael Moore’s documentary festival, Cousins was granted access to something that nobody had ever seen: sketches, paintings and drawings by Welles, now in a sealed box in a New York storage facility.
Cousins takes these precious materials home to Ireland – where Welles visited and sketched – and sifts through them. As a way of illuminating Welles’ work, it provides a fresh angle on the familiar. Welles, we come to learn, was a visual filmmaker, thinking in images – whether it was his Shakespeare adaptations, Othello and Macbeth, or his version of Kafka’s The Trial.
Yet it’s more than that; Welles bares his soul in these art-works. One painting, of a rock formation close to his house, was created after Universal Studios shut him out of his own film Touch of Evil. The black outlines of the rocks, and the angry red colours, suggests how furious he was. Cousins takes in places that meant much to Welles – Spain, Ireland, Morocco – as he tries to unpick Welles’ thoughts on love, chivalry and power.
As a primer to Welles’ work, Cousins’ film is hardly the place to start. The Eyes of Orson Welles comes from a deep love of the man and doesn’t see the need to repeat old stories about his struggles against the system. But with Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind – now completed posthumously – due to premiere at the Venice Film Festival later this month, this is the ideal chance to re-assess and re-think the man’s work.
The Eyes of Orson Welles opens on 17 August. Find out more here.
1. Stills from The Trial.