Orson Welles died in 1985, after a long and much discussed career as an artist in many media, but when one thinks of an artist, one probably thinks of drawing and painting, and Welles indulged in plenty of that over the course of his existence. Documentarian Mark Cousins has been given access to many of his artworks and uses them to thread together a story of what Welles means to him, and what he meant to others, yet perhaps more importantly what he meant to himself, splitting his narrative into five chapters to cover these views. After all, as he points out in 2018, these are very Wellesian times, as if history has not merely caught up with him, but comments on him too...
Another thing about Orson Welles: he loved the sound of his own voice. And no wonder, it was a rich, deep, modulated instrument, liable to make anything written before him sound of the greatest importance, which is why he was so much in demand, as he scrabbled increasingly for funding, for narration. And also why those outtakes that mill around online (which Cousins pointedly ignores here) are so meme-worthy: those tremendous tones brought so low, that pricking of perceived pomposity when this supposed great man is reduced to slurring endorsements for cheap booze and frozen peas. But that voice was important for a reason, and it was all the way through his work.
You could say the same (without the drunkenness and shilling) for Mark Cousins, who stamps his own authority on his films and television series with that unmistakable, clipped, Northern Irish brogue, which was presumably why we heard so much more of that in his Welles tribute than we did of the subject himself. That voice divides people in a way that Orson's did not: even when he was announcing some pseudo-scientific guff in a so-called documentary, Welles commanded respect for what he was reading, yet with Cousins, there are those who cannot take to his efforts when he insists on reading out every thought with in his own speech, to the extent they won't listen.
Their loss, you could say, as The Eyes of Orson Welles was as personal a tribute you could get from a fan to their idol, without getting into anything overfamiliar or even sordid. When Peter Bogdanovich concocted his "autobiographies" from bits and pieces of his old friend and mentor's clippings and records, he did not shy away from including stuff that did not reflect well on the director, but Cousins was not here to bury Caesar, he was more intent on praising him, and at least with the pictorial business he could have an excuse to make a film out of this, rather than a coffee table book. As Welles films were released to Blu-ray and a "new" effort appeared on Netflix, arguably he was more focused upon in the year this documentary was released than any time since his demise back in the eighties.
There was plenty that an aficionado would know, and even things those not so familiar with his oeuvre would recognise: that Citizen Kane is about a megalomaniac of the kind who seemed to be taking over the world in the twenty-first century, for instance, hence Cousin's averring we had caught up with Welles and his preoccupation with the Kings of this planet. He liked to see himself as Falstaff, yet Cousins makes the point he could be more Prince Hal, given his propensity for grandeur and doling out his attention as he saw fit, even to the extent of rejection of anything he did not have a use for anymore (including wives). But he had a sense of humour, a civic duty that extended to exposing fascism and injustice, and a genuine hurt when his careful plans did not go his way: we had a rounded picture of a man who grew increasingly rounded, physically and mentally, as time went on. Those sketches and doodles were as revealing as you wanted them to be, and in Cousins' hands that could be very revealing indeed, if not quite getting to the core of the artist as he obviously intended. But what would Orson Welles's legend be if he did not retain some enigma?