It’s going to have a limited appeal – movie nuts and insomniacs, probably – but the 15-hour long Story Of Film: An Odyssey by Mark Cousins is, for my money, the best essay on the movies ever created. Shot over five years in locations all around the world and drawing on thousands of movie clips, the series takes an intellectual, artistic and emotional look at how the cinema was born and how it developed over the past century and a bit.
You’ll most likely remember Cousins as the presenter of the much lamented Moviedrome on BBC2 (which showed very interesting but little known films) or as the maker of the even more lamented Scene By Scene (where he asked very good filmmakers very interesting questions), two high water marks of cinema on TV. Well know you can enjoy listening to his unusual, weary, questioning, damning, gentle, enigmatic Irish lilt once again as he breaks movie history roughly into decades and explains piece-by-piece how it was all put together and how the best filmmakers entertain us by taking it all apart again.
Cinema from all over the world, not just Hollywood, is featured and the pioneers of Scandinavia, India, the Far East, Brazil, Britain and Africa are rightly honoured. And when Hollywood is being discussed emphasis is placed on the traditionally unsung heroes such as the early female writers and directors. Interviews are included with filmmakers and associated characters who have been chosen because they know their cinematic onions and not because they are celebrities, which is refreshing. This isn’t a well-worn hagiography of the usual suspects but an intelligent, inclusive document that gives credit where it very often missed.
Cinema from all over the world, not just Hollywood, is featured and the pioneers of Scandinavia, India, the Far East, Brazil, Britain and Africa are rightly honoured. And when Hollywood is being discussed emphasis is placed on the traditionally unsung heroes such as the early female writers and directors.
Where the Story Of Film scores heaviest is in the way it breaks down the mechanics of filmmaking and demonstrates how technological advances and new thinking helped it develop as art form and industry. Always, suitable examples are selected to back up the theory and by the end you feel empowered enough that you could go out and at least make a decent fist of making your own movie. Quite an achievement for a mere TV series.
The series is not without faults, chiefly the shots which seem to have been included purely to justify the plane fare to the tax man (‘This is where the studio used to be’ or ‘Vigo died aged 29 in a building that used to stand here’) but even these are acceptable indulgencies in a narrative this compelling. The programme was obviously put together on a shoestring and so criticism must be tempered with admiration for a job so well done for so little cash.
Best of all is Mark Cousin’s articulate, convincing narration. It’s utterly absorbing and stops this exhaustive documentary from ever becoming exhausting. The Story Of Film is very much a personal essay on film but Cousins always shows his sources and backs up every single statement with a supporting clip so there is never any room to doubt what he’s saying. It provides one of those learning experiences that, when listening for (cumulatively) over half a day to someone who knows an awful more than you about a subject, is both highly rewarding and good for the mind and soul.
The Story Of Film is available from Network Releasing
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