‘Historia y arte de la mirada /
The Story of Looking’
Tuesday 13 November 19:00
CCCB Sala Mirador | Free Admission
On November 13th at the 25th L'alternativa award-winning filmmaker Mark Cousins will be launching the Spanish edition of his book Historia y arte de la mirada (The Story of Looking) and will be giving a special talk.
Earlier in the year Mark's documentary The Eyes of Orson Wells opened Cannes Classic and we spoke with him about the film, filmmaking and why Orson Wells was so inspiring to him.
We republish this interview ahead of the book launch in November.
Hello Mark thanks for talking to tNC, how's everything going?
All is dandy, thanks. Tout va bien. The sun is out and I'm eating tagliatelle amatriciana.
Congratulations on having Eyes of Orson Wells part of this years Cannes Classic programme, what does it mean to have your film part of the festival?
It's a big vote of confidence. It means our film is on the world's biggest cinephile stage. It means that, 33 years after he died, Orson Welles is still in the game. It means that all those who contributed to this film will get a fillip. It means that I'll have to iron my kilt for the red carpet.
What went through your head when you found out you had been selected?
To be honest, I thought something like "The film must be good. And maybe I have some talent." I always say that, as a filmmaker, I'm in the "No" business. We get no's all the time, so it's nice to get such a yes. To get a film made, my producers and I sit in lots of funders' rooms promising that, if they back the film, they'll be proud of the result. An invitation to play in Cannes Official Selection makes them proud.
I got the email from the festival on a Sunday morning. I danced around my apartment in my pants, then went to lunch and drank some wine. I told the boss of Cannes, Thierry Fremaux, that I was going to do this, and he said: "make sure it's good wine."
Do you get nerves ahead of a festival screening like this?
Yes, always. Screening at any big festival, especially Cannes, is very visible, very exposing. The thought of it fucks with your unconscious mind. To project a film is to massively magnify it. To project it in front of people who know a lot about the subject - Orson Welles - is, frankly, bordering on masochism.
"He became real before me during the making of The Eyes of Orson Welles."
Can you tell me a little bit about Eyes of Orson Wells, how did this film come about?
I met Welles' daughter, Beatrice, at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Fest. She told me about the drawings and paintings by her father and, after a martini or two, she asked if I'd make a film about them. I was very busy with other things but, to be honest, I jumped at the chance, because how often in a lifetime will such an offer occur? I knew what the pitfalls were - what else is there to say about a filmmaker who is already in the Pantheon? - but I've always been interested in innovation, on new takes on classic subjects.
What was it about Orson Wells that interested you as a filmmaker?
His swagger, energy, baroque, learning, recall, contradictions, myth, visual thinking, confidence, and politics.
During the making and researching for this film did you discover anything about him you had not been aware of before?
He became real before me during the making of The Eyes of Orson Welles. Before this, he was a legend, an Olympian figure. But when I visited the places where he lived and shot his films, he became more earthly. I even bought, in an auction, a pair of his boots and socks - about as earthy as you can get. Spending time with Beatrice Welles brought him more to life for me. She told lots of stories and even showed me his salad bowl. Trivial, in a way, but poignant. When someone dies, it's the little things - their toothbrush or glasses - which evoke them the most. When you make a film about someone, you try to narrow the gap between you and them. The gap narrowed a bit for me.
What was the most challenging part of bringing this film to life been?
I always say this, and it's always true: The hardest thing is to avoid banality. The danger in any creative endeavour is to under-imagine it. So much has been written and filmed about Welles, that there's a real danger of repetition, cliche or, worst of all, boredom.
How did you manage to balance all the roles you undertook on this film?
With the digitisation and miniaturisation of the film process, it has become possible to question some of the old divisions in film. I wholly respect the industrial way of doing things, but for some of us (and I think Welles would be such a person), it's OK to ask what the difference is between writing, directing and shooting. For me, they are all sort of the same job - making a good scene, a good moment, something resonant.
Looking back is there anything you would do differently on this film?
We trimmed the film by about then mins, removing some pauses. I slightly regret that.
Have you always been interested in filmmaking?
I've always been interested in film. I come from a working-class family, so knew no-one in the arts and assumed that it wasn't possible for one of us to be creative as a job. Creativity was secret and subversive, like sexuality, where I grew up. I came out as a filmmaker in my early 20s.
"The new equipment meant that I could go off and film on my own, get lost in a city and its visual encounter."
How much has your style and approach to you films changed since you started?
A lot. A started making commentary-less, observational documentaries in the classic British style. Then I became more interested in the poetics of film, the interplay between word and image, wider shots and less cutting. This change was in part because I was seeing more Asian films. When cameras got smaller and cheaper, I started shooting my own stuff. This was a revelation for me. Film crews always made me a bit nervous, in part because I didn't understand what they were saying and doing and in part because I felt that I didn't deserve to be directing them. The new equipment meant that I could go off and film on my own, get lost in a city and its visual encounter. This wouldn't suit everyone and it's not necessarily the best way to make films, but it massively suited my temperament.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
The British director Michael Grigsbyonce told me not to say "cut" once the person has gone through the door, the car has passed or the action has finished. I always remember that and have found that if you leave the camera running for another minute, something really good often happens.
What filmmakers inspire you?
God, how long have you got? Apichatpong Weeresethakul, Hara Kazuo, Bill Douglas, Edgar Wright, Abbas Kiarostami, Lucile Hadzilhalilovic, Kira Muratova...
Now you can be reflective do you have any advice you would offer a fellow writer/director?
"Try to show that which, without you, might never have been seen." Robert Bresson.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
Their litter. And a sense that Orson Welles was one of the great lookers of the 20th C.