The Eyes of Orson Welles

 

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Mark Cousins displays his remarkable talents but also lets in a few weaknesses.

 
Eyes of Orson Welles

  

Until it reached its last fifteen minutes or so, I thought that The Eyes of Orson Welles was going to be Mark Cousins’ masterpiece. It has been promoted as a film giving new insight into Welles on account of its revelation of the great man’s drawings which, thanks to Beatrice Welles, the daughter of his third marriage, are here made public for the first time. These drawings numbering around a thousand were produced over some sixty years (Welles was only nine years old when he declared an interest in painting and the like) and they range from items undertaken for their own sake to sketches related to his films and stage work.

 

All of this proves to be fascinating indeed, but it is only part of what is on offer as Mark Cousins brings all his flair into play to consider the films that Welles gave us. This has all the depth and revelatory understanding displayed earlier by Cousins in his celebrated TV series The Story of Film, but this time extracts of mint quality make it important to see this film in a cinema if at all possible. A further reason for this is the impact of the footage in strong colour shot for this film, all of it vividly evoking the settings shown and shot by Cousins himself. As for Welles the man, the six sections that make up this work start by covering his background and then his political views (admiringly presented). His love life follows next (a term defined widely enough to include his love for places and to pass through no less than five segments to end memorably with a devastating reference to Chimes at Midnight). Fourth up is a less decisive section asking if Welles let himself down in his later career.

 

You won’t get here what emerges from Simon Callow’s superlative books about Welles, namely an overall picture of a man of genius whose behaviour could be appalling. That would hardly be possible at this length, but you do find in this documentary individual insights on all levels that render this film head and shoulders above an enjoyable piece such as Chuck Workman’s 2014 film Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles. However, the brilliance of The Eyes of Orson Welles falls away somewhat in its last 15 minutes or so. It is fanciful but acceptable to find Cousins presenting his commentary in the form of a letter addressed to Welles but then the film moves on to a fifth section, “Jester”, in which we are asked to imagine the dead Welles writing in reply to Cousins - it all becomes a fancy too much being out of keeping with the tone that has been set. It’s all the more tiresome because it means that we have to adjust to an actor impersonating Welles’s voice. Next, there’s a further and final section arriving out of the blue since we have been given no clue as to how many to expect. This has some good points to make but nevertheless makes the film seem rather overlong. Furthermore, a supposedly climactic revelation that strikes Cousins as a sudden moment of truth although interesting has rather less impact than that concluding thrust in the section on the love life. Even when the film seems to be over, Cousins cannot resist an unnecessary post-credits comment drawing on “Don Quixote”. Ultimately, then, this is not quite the faultless movie that it looked set to be, but it doesn’t fall far short and its qualities are much, much more important than its failings.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Mark Cousins, Beatrice Welles and the voice of Jack Klaff.

 

Dir Mark Cousins, Pro Mary Bell and Adam Dawtrey, Screenplay Mark Cousins, Ph Mark Cousins, Ed Timo Langer, Music Matt Regan, Animation and Visual Effects Danny Carr.

 

Bofa Production/BBC/Filmstruck-Dogwoof.
115 mins. UK/USA 2018. Rel: 17 August 2018. Cert. 12A.