Jul. 04, 2012 - Issue #872: The Beer Issue
Capturing the world
Filmmaker attempts a comprehensive history of cinema
Directed by Mark Cousins
The history of cinema most commonly chronicled is one dictated by commerce; it favours Hollywood, rarely looks farther abroad than Western Europe, with nods to Russia and Japan for good measure, and leads one to believe that the Third World doesn't even place on the map. This history, declares Irish film critic and filmmaker Mark Cousins at the start of his 15-part series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, is inaccurate and racist by omission. Indeed, try to imagine a history of painting that favours Robert Bateman over Mark Rothko, or a history of literature devoted to the likes of John Grisham and Danielle Steel while ignoring Gabriel García Márquez and Chinua Achebe. The history Cousins sets out to convey in this ambitious, captivating series, based on his terrific 2004 book, purports that what drives movies is passion and innovation. He's thus sculpted The Story of Film as "a global road movie to find the innovators, the people and films that give life to the sublime, ineffable art form of cinema." Our friends at Metro Cinema are going to be screening the series in its entirety over the course of the summer, which means cinephiles are in for a long and nourishing treat, beginning this week with episodes one and two.
Cousins' sense of how cinema lives, how it speaks to the world and to itself, is vast and sprawling, his appetite voracious. In episode one's first minutes he shifts between the storming of the beach in Normandy in Saving Private Ryan ("This is filmmaking: the art of making us feel we were there.") to a moment in Three Colors: Blue ("This is filmmaking: cinema as empathy machine."). He traces the image of bubbles in a glass through Odd Man Out to 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her to Taxi Driver. In episode two he'll hopscotch nimbly from Nanook of the North to Sans Soleil to the films of Erich Von Stroheim, "the Zola of cinema." A rigorous associationalist, with a generous view of interconnectivity, Cousins finds peculiar yet compelling connections between a deleted scene from Chaplin's City Lights to a moment in Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing.
But he is also, of course, a meticulous historian. Though he continually slides back and forth in time, he does so as a way of ensuring that we understand how the past changes the present. These first episodes take us to Edison's factory, to the places first filmed by the Lumiere brothers, to the parking lot where Buster Keaton lived in a trailer after falling from grace with the studio. Cousins describes Florence Lawrence, the world's first movie star, who when she died on screen and then reappeared the audience was reported to have tore off her clothing. He describes the birth of the close-up, the innovations of DW Griffith, who first showed us wind in the trees, and CT Dreyer, who made reduction into poetry. Cousins also reports some facts that may surprise you, such as the overwhelming dominance of women in the early days of screenwriting, or Australia's claim on the world's first feature.
Moment by moment The Story of Film fascinates. So far my only complaint is with Cousins' own voice-over narration. He sounds like he needs a glass of water, and his cadence almost never changes. Perhaps he'll have hydrated himself by episode three.
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy