The Films That Made Us: Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins is a prolific writer and filmmaker known for his pioneering cult cinema series Moviedrome, his detailed and passionate series The Story of Film: An Odyssey and in more recent years for his films I Am Belfast and Stockholm, My Love. He returns in 2018 with a new film, The Eyes of Orson Welles, casting a fresh light on one of cinema's most gargantuan figures. Here, as part of our ongoing series The Films That Made Us, Cousins tells us what Orson Welles means to him. 

I've just made a film about Orson Welles. I love his movies, but I really thought there was nothing left to say about them. But then I saw his drawings and paintings, and realised that this could be a new angle on him - a new lens.

Anyone serious about cinema has a favourite Welles film. The one that has moved me the most is Chimes at Midnight (1965), his recounting the story of Shakespeare's corpulent, carousing knight John Falstaff through a radical reinterpretation of Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, Richard II, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor. It fascinates because it's a film about paradise lost - about the death of friendship. 

Chimes at Midnight  (1965)

Chimes at Midnight (1965)

My first encounter with Welles - I was eight years old - was on TV. His 1958 noir Touch of Evil is a cathedral of a movie - a seedy nightclub, a velvet underground. Its content is so adult that I had no idea what it was about, but my younger self took a ghost train ride in the dark that night - a strange ride for a kid - and it made me.

Touch of Evil  (1958)

Touch of Evil (1958)

Or unmade me. Welles' films don't centre you. They pull you apart. Their contradictions are so bold. He was both a romantic and a cynic; a modernist and a traditionalist; chivalrous yet ruthless; principled but elitist; a dreamer and a dick.

Through my film, I've come to know Welles' daughter Beatrice. She told me that her dad and I would have gotten on. Like Welles, there's a touch of Dionysus in me. But I also like to lie on the sofa and watch the Antiques Road Show. I make more films that anyone I know, but I need to escape the sturm und drang. Did Welles need the same quietude? Did I make this film to reconcile something within? It didn't work. I'm more obsesses with him than ever. 

The Eyes of Orson Welles  (2018)

The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018)

[Words by Mark Cousins]

Mark Cousins' new film The Eyes of Orson Welles plays in cinemas and on demand from Friday 17 August. 

Ryan Hewitt