Top positive review
91 people found this helpful
A Highly Idiosyncratic and Stimulating Survey
on December 29, 2012
May 8, 2102: Since the time I originally posted some comments on this superb documentary essay, "The Story of Film: An Odyssey," I have re-watched all 15 hours of it twice. Several of my friends are cinephiles and college film professors who have been anxious to share this viewing experience with me. This explains my insanity, as it were. Lots of nice dinners at my house and lots of "The Story of Film." Needless to say, everybody I know finds something missing: an important director, an important individual film. Everybody hates something that Cousins loves. (He is is full of hyperbolic praise for the most surprising things.) But we all agree -- this is a stunning achievement. One of the greatest things about it, by the way, is that it makes you want to see hundreds of movies again or for the first time. If I had the energy, I would remove almost all the negative remarks I have made below -- but best to leave it as it stands. I do have to add, however, not one of my friends has any objection to the way Mr. Cousins speaks. I also no longer find that his remarks interfere with the zillion film clips. Just imagine the mountainous task of selecting and obtaining the rights to them!
Earlier review: This huge "The Story of Film: An Odyssey" is an odyssey for sure in the way the author/narrator's ideas stray all over the place intellectually and geographically. But it is coherent unlike Godard's "Histoire(s) du cinéma." It is also highly idiosyncratic and the author's opinions are right in your face. He makes sweeping pronouncements on who and what is great. One is likely to disagree with many of his powerful convictions.
Here at Amazon, I have read a number of unfair negative customer comments. Many people cannot stand Mark Cousins' Northern Irish accent -- a nasty prejudice I find offensive. It is true that his speech is lilting, even lulling, and virtually every statement sounds like a question; but would these same commentators attack speakers with other national or ethnic accents? And how seriously are we to take comments from people who have seen only two or three hours out of a 15-hour project?
This is not a set to buy if you are seeking a wonderful series on the "Golden History of Hollywood." Cousins does not ignore Hollywood altogether, of course (how could he?) -- but the glamorous studio years are shoved way, way off to the side. Except in one episode, Cousins makes references to Hollywood only as needed. When he reaches the '60s and '70s, American film comes more solidly into the picture. In general, Cousins admires almost all of the American based directors that European intellectuals fashionably admit into the Pantheon of greatness (Sirk, Wilder, Ray, Minnelli, Donen, Hitchcock, Ford, Lynch etc.). In this way he is predictably tiresome, and one even suspects an anti-American sentiment lurking beneath the surface of everything. Certainly the many full-color inserted shots of LA seem designed to make it look as tacky as possible.
So -- for a documentary that calls itself "The Story of Film," it is lousy as a study of American film per se. But Cousin's brief comments on everything he treats are of interest. He offers one insight after another, and his explanations of technical developments would be perfect for film students. He is always discussing lighting, atmosphere, mise en scene, camera angles, camera lenses, and everything that has to do with content and meaning of a visual image. His comments on the advent of digital and CGI techniques are especially good. The viewer is likely to have a series of epiphanies.
India, China, Egypt, Japan, South America, Mexico, Spain, France, Denmark, Sweden, England, Hungary, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, -- these and more give a sweep to his narrative. I learned about many films I have never heard of before in my life and now am anxious to see.
The film intercuts contemporary documentary footage (apparently freshly shot for the documentary itself) of all the international locales discussed, often showing us a brief glimpse of the way something looks now. For instance, in a the section about Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, there are flashes of the locations today. For instance, Chaplin is on a street corner with the blind girl in "City Lights," and for a second or two we see that empty corner as it looks now -- namely dreary!. We learn about the Shaw Studios in China -- and then see those studios today etc. A technique Cousins uses is to intercut examples of the later influence of a an earlier director on the work of a later one. So, when we learn about Chaplin, we see examples of his influence on other comic actors and filmmakers.
One slightly annoying thing is that Cousins often talks his way through many of the film clips. I think it helps to know something about movies to start with -- but this essay (I think that is a better term than "documentary") is bound to broaden the horizons of any serious film lover.