THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES, a doco by MARK COUSINS

 |   |  2 min read

THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES, a doco by MARK COUSINS

Many decades ago when taking a class in film analysis to a group of enthusiastic young people, I was at a loss as to how introduce Orson Welles, his art and work was so diverse and massive.

By chance it was made easy: I threw up an image of the older Orson on the screen and immediately a voice from the darkness said, “Hey, that's the Nashua 120 guy!”

Yes, Orson Welles did a television advertisement for a photocopy machine in the same lifetime as Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, A Touch of Evil, The Third Man, Othello . . .

This doco however takes a journey from the present day of cellphones and colour back through black'n'white clips to discover Welles' sketchbooks, drawings and his study of art which honed his cinematic eye for perspective, odd angles, high contrast, framing and chiaroscuro.

And Irish filmmaker/narrator Mark Cousins links these with appropriate clips from films but also film of the world around us.

We go to Ann Arbor where many of Welles' drawing are held in the university archives: the coat he wore in Jane Eyre, letters, clippings and scores of his sketches . . .

Welles' third daughter Beatrice who lives near Monument Valley shows her father's work which she has: cartoons, letters with marginal drawings, caricatures of people and types . . .

There's a colourful angry oil painted after he was refused permission to come back to A Touch of Evil and his project was taken from his hands. All quite remarkable.

This lengthy – almost two hour – exploration of Welles' art away from the screen or stage is insightful and revelatory.

Welles was a man who loved Ireland which is brought to the fore by the filmmaker through faces which might have stepped off Welles' sketchbooks into the world.

At this point the visual reference to a clip Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran makes perfect sense, the young Welles was there when Flaherty was making his film.

And it was in Dublin where he invented himself in the theatre, claiming a fame he had yet to possess.

The Eyes of Orson Welles is also an autobiographical travelogue as it follows the sketchbooks of the peripatetic Welles to Essaouira in Morocco (where he would later film the opening sequence of Othello), Seville, back to the United States to appear on radio (War of the Worlds!) and create his all-black cast for the stage production of Macbeth, Citizen Kane, Brazil for his never-completed film . . . and more.

More because at this point Welles is not yet 30 and he lived another 40 years. 

The film is a letter to Welles which becomes a career synopsis following the art – some of which prefigured images from films shot much later – into his life and out again.

This is an insightful doco which makes Welles' art contemporary and relevant all over again.

Orson Welles was a bluff, complex, bullish, funny, earnest Renaissance Man for whom politics and the faces of ordinary people were central to his art, however he expressed himself.

Except perhaps when he was reduced to what he called "whoring" by doing Nashua 120 and other ads for the money.

The Eyes of Orson Welles screens on Sky Arts, Saturday February 16, 8.30pm

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Film articles index

THE JOE STRUMMER STORY, a documentary by MIKE PARKINSON (DV1 DVD/Southbound)

THE JOE STRUMMER STORY, a documentary by MIKE PARKINSON (DV1 DVD/Southbound)

With each passing year the myth and power of Joe Strummer seems to grow as his story has its contradictions and inconveniences ironed out. His wilderness years after the Clash are all but ignored... > Read more

LEVIATHAN, a film by ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV (Madman DVD)

LEVIATHAN, a film by ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV (Madman DVD)

The titular beast from the depths in this bleak and sometimes depressing masterpiece only fully reveals itself in the final half hour, and it's not that on the cover of this DVD. In a remote... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Pete's Danish rum souffle

Pete's Danish rum souffle

Pete notes that while this is neither Danish nor a souffle it does contain rum. It's an old family favourite apparently. "The parentals picked it up when blowing through some roadside diner... > Read more

Townes Van Zandt: Rake (1969)

Townes Van Zandt: Rake (1969)

Few of Townes van Zandt's dedicated followers would know that he once played Carnegie Hall in New York, an unlikely venue for a man who later had a reputation as a difficult, morose and poetically... > Read more