Mark Cousins’s The Eyes of Orson Welles is “one of the best Welles documentaries released since his death in 1985,” declares none other than Ray Kelly, who maintains the invaluable online resource Wellesnet. So far, reviews of the film premiering in this year’s Cannes Classics program are just as strong across the board.
Cousins, the producer and director probably most known for his fifteen-hour documentary, The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011), was granted exclusive access to hundreds of the legendary director’s private correspondence, drawings, and paintings by Welles’s daughter, Beatrice. The sheer wealth of the material is one of the film’s revealing surprises. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw notes that “Welles painted and drew indefatigably from his teen years to his bearded age: fiercely energetic, muscular lines of charcoal, pencil, and paint, which were ideas for set design, movie storyboards, sketches of faces, and just visions. Cousins makes a convincing case that his movies were an extension of his (unrecognized) brilliance as a graphic artist.”
Writing for Cineuropa, where he’s also interviewed Cousins, Kaleem Aftab notes that the emphasis here is less on Citizen Kane (1941) and more on “Welles’s less celebrated works, such as Mr. Arkadin (1955) and his 1948 adaptation of Macbeth . . . Cousins demonstrates how the edgy, scrappy nature of these movies are mirrors to the way in which the famed director looked at the world visually. It’s all backed up by Cousins’s florid prose, which feels like he’s telling us the most exciting bedtime story of all time.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy, too, makes note of Cousins’s idiosyncratic approach. “Not one to stay in the creative shadows and let his work speak for itself, Cousins boldly positions his almost continuous narration in the form of a long, adulatory, occasionally impudent letter to the late director/writer/actor/magician/political columnist/raconteur/vagabond and all-around man of the world.”