The Story of Film is a feast for cinema lovers. Mark Cousins adapts his celebrated book of the same title into this audacious fifteen-hour project, screening over multiple days at the Festival. He traces the entire history of film, concentrating on artistic vision (rather than business or celebrities) from the silent era to the digital age. Unlike historians who place an emphasis on Western cinema, Cousins takes a more global approach. He showcases iconic film clips from Asia, Africa, India, the Middle East and South America — woven into the more familiar legacy of Europe and North America. His treatment succeeds at being both erudite and accessible.
Often this kind of ambitious project requires the backing of an institution, which can result in a bland sensibility. But Cousins’ approach is more individualistic. Based in Scotland, he earned his expertise from an eclectic background of festival programming, filmmaking and teaching. For his popular BBC program and eponymous book Scene by Scene, he interviewed the likes of Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski and Bernardo Bertolucci. Now he marshals that wealth of knowledge to narrate The Story of Film in his endearing brogue. He supplements his commentary by interviewing cinematic history makers such as Wim Wenders, Claire Denis and Alexander Sokurov. The conversations are shot with the idiosyncratic style of a one-person crew in locales around the world.
By taking a DIY approach, Cousins preserves an editorial independence that normally gets lost with a bigger budget and committee decision-making. His achievement represents a breakthrough for the multi-part documentary. After experiencing this history from such a distinctive viewpoint, you may crave similar treatments for music, literature, politics or whatever compels you. Of course, Cousins has the advantage of drawing upon image makers who take our breath away: Buster Keaton, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Fritz Lang, Yasujiro Ozu, Satyajit Ray, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Youssef Chahine, Agnes Varda, Nicholas Roeg, Ousmane Sembene, Abbas Kiarostami — to name only a sampling. In The Story of Film, you’ll drink their visions and walk away thirsty for more.
Thiz has to beeee quite possibly one of the beeeeeest fiiiiilmmmsss eeeeverrrrrr maaaaaaayyydeeee.
I didn't agree 100 percent with Cousins' commentary (Starship Troopers, really?!), but this is an incredible documentary I would recommend to anyone wanting to know more about the history of film worldwide. Being a pretty hardcore film nerd myself for the last 14 years or so, he didn't really mention anyone I hadn't heard of before, but the way he framed his "story of film" was compelling and flowed without a hitch.
A 15-hour comprehensive history — with an argument.
The Special will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of Positif and the 50th of the Oberhausen Manifesto.
Plus: Jane Birkin on Serge Gainsbourg and Bilge Ebiri on Ettore Scola.