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Interview with Mark Cousins on "The Eyes of Orson Welles" (2018)

Mark Cousins' "The Eyes of Orson Welles" (2018)

Filmmaker Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins' "The Eyes of Orson Welles" (2018)

Prolific filmmaker Mark Cousins' latest oeuvre “The Eyes of Orson Welles” (2018) is a documentary about the eponymous genius canon auteur director, his influence on cinema and shaping the collective psyche of our modern culture. Starring Northern Irish-born, Scottish resident director Mark Cousins himself and Orson's daughter Beatrice Welles, they set out to show us who Orson really was, giving us an intimate view of the man behind the mastery. The film held its world premiere at the 71st Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for the Golden Eye award and won 2nd prize.

 

I spoke with Mark about the film. Here is what he had to say:

 

When did your love for Orson Welles begin?
MARK: In Belfast in the mid 1970s, I saw Welles films on TV. The one that struck me most was “Touch of Evil”. I was too young to realise that it was about race, sex and power, but I felt its force, its magnetic field, its atmosphere, poetics and elegy. A film about a man whose time was over, seen by someone whose time was just starting.

 

In your opinion, what made him such a misunderstood man?
MARK: We are all contradictory, but Welles was massively so. Fiercely Liberal but fascinated by fascists; in love with chivalry and old fashioned values, but duplicitous in romantic relationships; literary, yet one of the great visual thinkers of the 20th century; a dynamo yet, somehow, also paralysed by art.

 

Was it a long journey for you to make this homage?
Not too long. My working methods aren't tortured. As soon as I heard about Welles' drawings and paintings, I thought of a structure for my film about them. Funding wasn't too difficult. Filming was a pleasure - just me and one other person following on Welles' footsteps. The only painful bit was when one of the funders wanted a slightly shorter version of the movie. "Versioning" is never fun.

 

When and how did you meet Beatrice and what was it like to work with her?
I met Beatrice Welles at Michael Moore's film festival in traverse City, Michigan. I was introduced to her by Phil Hallman of U Mich, which owns lots of Welles documents. Beatrice was hands off. I spent a lot of time with her, hearing her stories of her father, which was fascinating, but then made the film I needed to make. On watching the rough cut, Beatrice did suggest a change to the opening music, which was a good idea and was, overall, very encouraging.

 

Have you seen his latest film, “The Other Side of the Wind” yet?
MARK: I haven't seen “The Other Side of The Wind.” It has only been screened a few times, in private, so far. I can't wait. I hope it's cut as fast as an Eisenstein film.

 

As an avid documentarian, do you prefer docs to fiction?
MARK: I made a fiction film - “Stockholm My Love” - last year, and my "I am Belfast" is part fiction. I've always liked the overlap between fiction and documentary. It's unpredictable terrain, in which you can get lost.

 

Was it hard getting into filmmaking in Scotland?
MARK: Scotland is the home of John Grierson, one of the founding fathers of the documentary but, yes, it's harder when you don't live in one of the big film industry cities like LA, Paris, London or Mumbai. Being an "outsider" can be lovely, but it gives you time to think and observe.

 

What are some of greatest docs that inspired you?
MARK: So many! Hara Kazuo's “The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On”, Pirjo Honkasalo's “Three Rooms of Melancholia”, Viktor Kossakovsky's “Wednesday”, Forough Farrokhzad's “The House is Black”, Chris Market's “Sunless”, etc.

 

You won a prize for your doc at this year's Cannes. What was that like?
MARK: It was like dancing naked to Diana Ross.

 

What are you working on next?
MARK: Am completing a 15 hour film, which alas is as yet a secret!

 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon

 

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