EYES OF OR­SON WELLES

★★★★

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN -

OUT 17 AU­GUST CERT 12A / 112 MINS

DI­REC­TOR Mark Cousins

CAST Mark Cousins, Beatrice Welles, Or­son Welles

PLOT Through pre­vi­ously un­seen sketches, draw­ings and paint­ings, doc­u­men­tar­ian Mark Cousins goes on a dizzy­ing jour­ney to con­nect with the real Or­son Welles — the vis­ual artist that so few knew lived in­side the in­fa­mous ac­tor and film­maker.

SCOT­TISH DI­REC­TOR MARK Cousins is not known for en­ter­ing into things lightly; with­out com­mit­ment. This, af­ter all, is the man who made the 15-hour doc­u­men­tary The Story Of Film: An Odyssey in 2011.

It’s a com­mit­ment re­peated — if not in length, then in depth — in

The Eyes Of Or­son Welles, his at times dream-like, ob­ses­sive quest to dis­cover the vis­ual artist he ar­gues was at the heart of the Or­son Welles the pub­lic is more fa­mil­iar with.

Cousins doesn’t talk about Welles, he talks to him, via a long, very per­sonal love let­ter that cre­ates the nar­ra­tion of his voiceover. The in­ti­macy is star­tling, dis­ori­en­tat­ing. Like lis­ten­ing in on a lovers’ phone call, hear­ing the con­ver­sa­tion only ever meant for two sets of ears. Or read­ing the let­ters meant for two sets of eyes. Cousin’s smooth, lilt­ing, Scot­tish brogue man­ages to se­duce — both you and you feel, some­how, even in death, his sub­ject.

Or­son Welles painted, drew and sketched for most of his life, start­ing at just nine years old, though much of his out­put was un­fin­ished, or what ap­peared to be var­i­ous par­tial states of com­ple­tion. Cousins fills in the gaps, trac­ing thick lines over the ones left thin and slight. He blends old pho­to­graphs, film clips, in­ter­views and a video di­ary as he re­traces Welles’ steps across Ire­land, Spain, Morocco, Paris and Ari­zona. Welles the ac­tor and Welles the di­rec­tor both pre­sented as ex­ten­sions of, prod­ucts of, his life as an artist. It’s a com­pelling ar­gu­ment, made steadily, grad­u­ally; a clear line be­ing drawn be­tween his char­coal sketches, stark paint­ings and fully re­alised on-screen per­for­mances. The scale and scope of Welles’ creative vi­sion bloom­ing into be­ing be­fore your eyes over the course of the film.

For a doc­u­men­tary on a man who died more than 30 years ago, the film has a sur­pris­ing, un­nerv­ing current-day rel­e­vance, with Cousins de­scrib­ing Welles’ re­sis­tance of fas­cism dur­ing his life­time. It’s hard not to imag­ine what Or­son Welles the artist, the man, would make of 2018.

There are un­doubt­edly mo­ments which feel deeply, even des­per­ately, in­dul­gent. A se­quence in which Cousins writes a fan­ci­ful (imag­ined) re­ply from Or­son Welles to him grates with con­trivance and bursts with ego. But you can for­give a pas­sion­ately un­cyn­i­cal Cousins these mo­ments — not least due to his coup of se­cur­ing a wealth of un­seen art from Welles’ youngest daugh­ter, Beatrice. It’s this which makes you feel as if you’re see­ing Or­son Welles anew, with fresh, grate­ful eyes.

“Who were you?” Cousins asks Welles, re­peat­edly re­vis­it­ing one strik­ing im­age of his sub­ject, un­touched yet by age, ly­ing on a bed, eyes blaz­ing, locked on the cam­era. And with this doc­u­men­tary you feel that he, and we, are one big step closer to find­ing out. TERRI WHITE

VER­DICT A heady, oc­ca­sion­ally in­dul­gent, yet en­tirely new look at the ac­tor and film­maker through an im­pres­sive ar­ray of pre­vi­ously un­seen art­work. Mark Cousin’s com­mit­ment to the cause yields im­pres­sive and ar­rest­ing re­sults.

Or­son Welles: an artist in more ways than one.

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