The Eyes of Orson Welles – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by Mark Cousins
The choice by Mark Cousins of the phrase “The eyes of” in the title gives an insight into what drove him to make this documentary. He highlights the paramount importance to Welles of the visual throughout.
Welles was multitalented and peripatetic. After a brief introductory sequence as to how modern technology has made the accessibility of visual reproduction commonplace, Cousins chronologically deals with Welles’s relatively privileged upbringing during the great depression of the thirties and follows him to various locations which begins with Ireland and then includes Spain, Italy and Morocco amongst other destinations. Importantly, he also adds a visit to Sedona, Arizona to talk with Welles’s daughter, Beatrice, who is in charge of the Welles estate. She has a large collection of artefacts which include many drawings and paintings by Welles which have not previously been publicly seen. To Cousins, who is a Welles connoisseur, this treasure trove of previously unknown material was a joy to discover. He studied and analysed it. It increased his understanding of the manner in which Welles saw the world around him. The drawings are often made with very few strokes. Cousins recreates in the film the making of the drawings by the use of modern technology which enables the audience to see how, with such few marks, the energetic images created by Welles emerge. From an early age it appears Welles was sketching and he continued to do so. It is this proficiency which Cousins utilises to underscore the title which he has chosen. He tries to place the viewer as close as possible to the way in which Welles viewed his surroundings.
Welles operated both professionally and personally on a very large canvas. His love life was impetuous and diverse and included amongst others Rita Hayworth. Cousins fascinatingly dissects scenes in which she appears to demonstrate how Welles wanted her to be seen by his audience. He was always observing and experimenting. His resulting genius created the incomparable “Citizen Kane” and of course the other work whose critical acclaim varied. But all of it contains creative imagery which Cousins uses.
The strength of the documentary is the immense depth of Cousins’s knowledge of Welles. He is constantly pointing out visual details which, without his own trained and knowledgeable eye, could easily be overlooked. It is the visual on which Cousins concentrates. His omission of any reference to Welles’ 1938 adaptation of the “War of the the Worlds” underlines the paramount importance of the image as this famous or infamous broadcast contained no visual content as it was but a mere radio broadcast.
The documentary lasts an hour and fifty minutes and the time flies by. Cousins ably shows the many talents that were encompassed within Orson Welles. This documentary will help to ensure that a new generation of cinema goers will have a greater understanding of Orson Welles, who was on and off the screen larger than life. He was a genius, who chose primarily the cinema screen, to display his prodigious creative talents and Cousins gives the audience new insights into that genius.