Criterion Prediction #205: The Eyes of Orson Welles, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Eyes of Orson Welles
Director: Mark Cousins
Cast: Beatrice Welles, Mark Cousins, Orson Welles
Synopsis: Mark Cousins holds a light to the immense body of work left behind by Welles to better understand the modern world as well as reconcile his reverence for the late maverick in this personal journey into one of the cinemas most celebrated figures.
Critique: Mark Cousins achieved what so few have been able to pull off by creating an original and compelling look at the enigmatic life and career of Orson Welles. There have been plenty of documentaries focusing on the famed auteur; some are decent, others are forgettable. With a life as bountiful as Welles, is there any way a filmmaker could adequately touch on every facet of his various works? Not within the traditional runtime and framework of the documentary genre. Perhaps if there were a series in the mode of Ken Burns, but that’s another conversation. The BBC Arena two-parter is a decent look at the life and work of Welles. The Battle of Citizen Kane from 1996 is compelling in that it’s a specific examination of the parallels between Hearst and Welles. Then there’s the humdrum affair known as Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, then Orson Welles: Shadows and Light. So in the wake of the long-awaited release of The Other Side of the Wind, we’re graced with They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a fun accompaniment to Welles’ thought-to-be-lost feature, and The Eyes of Orson Welles. The latter effort from Cousins differed in that it’s less a documentary and more of an essay film. A distinction that goes lengths in exploring the impenetrable world of Welles.
Cousins’ intuitive aesthetic cultivates an inquisitive and curious journey that plays like a one-way conversation between the filmmaker and the late Welles. While so many documentaries rehash the same archival footage, use the same interviews and movie clips, Mark Cousins operates without the mandated narrative of Welles’ life and career. Yes, he shocked the world with his War of the Worlds broadcast, and Citizen Kane enraged the subject it was based on, but isn’t the requisite knowledge for any semi-informed cineaste. Not looking for answers in the legacy of someone whose life was intentionally cloaked in misdirection, Cousins turns his energy forward, not backward. Much of the film is spent asking questions, pondering what Welles would make of our current cultural climate, generating a dialogue that’s infinitely more valuable and artistically challenging. Less of a film about Welles but the myth of Welles, the self spun yarn of fiction he enveloped around his life and work, which is infinitely more appealing.
Personally driven and wildly insightful, The Eyes of Orson Welles is artistically rewarding with a level of playful trickery that would make the late maverick himself chortle with glee.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: Despite the body of work made by Mark Cousins, criticism is divided on The Eyes of Orson Welles. Some find it to be a warm tribute to the famed artist, and others feel it’s ponderous and self-indulgent. Naturally, I’d think that a feature such as this would be at home in The Criterion Collection, and while it might not seem as strong a contender, the film is touring with the Janus Films logo. The Eyes of Orson Welles might not get a spine number but would make a solid bonus feature for any future Welles titles en route to The Criterion Collection.