Film Critic Mark Cousins explores newly found drawings by Orson Welles made throughout his life, and uses them to tell the story of the man’s life and movies. It’s a very personal take on Welles that re-evaluates his films as expressions of his philosophies and fears. Throughout the film Cousins narrates in the context of a letter to the great man read aloud.As the title implies, a great deal of importance is given to the eyes of the man. His lens is presented as an extension of his gaze, and Cousins explores the man’s drawings to find insight into how Orson Welles beheld the world, and speculates as to what he would think of the world today.
The drawings come from throughout Welles life. There are production designs, landscapes, Christmas cards, letters, and even just notes to loved ones. It was clearly a compulsion to Welles, the legacy of which is a visual encyclopedia of his inner self. The drawings are sometimes drawn before our eyes by an invisible pen, accompanied by the scratching sound of pen on paper. It’s clear that the creative process of drawing is as much a focus of this film as the actual work he produced. This is a film about creation; how it’s done and why.
Cousins makes innovative use of the documentary format. He breaks down the cinematography and editing of the man’s films with great insight. He delves into his philosophy, politics, loves and character. It’s an affectionate portrait but one that does explore the darker sides to his character, always with understanding. Welles is revealed to be a great humanist, and one obsessed with human nature. Fascinating archive footage of the man demonstrates his charisma and sincerity in his beliefs.
The Eyes of Orson Welles is not only essential viewing for fans of Orson Welles, but for all cineastes. It stands alone as a biopic of a great and troubled man who felt an irrepressible need to express himself. Like those of Orson Welles, Cousin’s film exposes himself as well as his subject, and what is most apparent is what these films mean for Cousins. His fondness for the man and his material make this a beautiful film.