Movies You Missed 68: The Story of Film: An Odyssey | Live Culture

Movies You Missed 68: The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters


This week in movies you missed: A contrarian Film 101 course says no, the story of film is not all about Hollywood.

What You Missed

What are the “rules” of making movies? What does Taxi Driver have in common with a Godard film? How did film separate itself from theater? Who did the first movie close-up? The first editing? Who was the first movie star? How did Hollywood get so important?

All these questions are addressed in the first three episodes of The Story of Film, a highly idiosyncratic documentary series. Mark Cousins, a film historian from northern Ireland who likes to wear kilts (pictured) directed this 15-hour illustrated history of the art form based on his book of the same name.

It’s stuffed with clips from films ranging from the very familiar (Saving Private Ryan) to the much less so, at least for modern, Western moviegoers (groundbreaking silent films from Denmark, Shanghai and Japan). Cousins alternates these with recent footage of sites important to film history (Edison’s New Jersey, cities around the world) and oddball images he uses to illustrate his concepts. For instance, a shiny Christmas bauble represents Hollywood’s “romantic entertainment cinema” and shatters when arty innovators such as Carl Dreyer come along to break the rules.

Why You Missed It

Clocking in at 900 minutes, The Story of Film was broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Cousins narrates the series, explaining the images to us. With a lilting Irish accent and a tendency to leave sentences hanging on an inconclusive up-note, he sounds like a parent trying to lull you to sleep by telling a thrilling bedtime story about the growth of a multibillion-dollar global industry ... very ... calmly ... and ... sleepily.

It might actually put you to sleep, if Cousins weren’t using his hypnotic tone to say deliberately provocative things, such as calling traditional film history “racist by omission” and asserting that films such as Casablanca are not “classics.” He’s like someone on serious downers reading a revolutionary political manifesto, a combination that grew on me. His collagistic, sometimes free-associating use of images didn’t hurt, either.

Its style issues and self-conscious contrarianism aside, The Story of Film is simply an absorbing film history. Cousins’ explanations of concepts like the “180-degree rule” are simple and clear, the jargon is minimal, and, best of all, you’ll get all kinds of new, cool-looking movies to add to your “To Watch” list. It’s time to stop complaining about how modern Hollywood puts out nothing but sequels and remakes and go watch The Wind and the films of Ozu, already. I only had time to see the first three hours of TSoF for this review, but I’m looking forward to the rest.

Verdict: If The Artist and Hugo made you want to watch silent films but you didn’t know where to start, Cousins should be your next stop.

More New DVDs

Advocate for Fagdom (doc about “queercore” filmmaker Bruce LaBruce)

The Bourne Legacy

“Futurama,” season 7

“Girls,” season 1

Half the Sky (miniseries about the global quest to improve women’s opportunities)

Miami Connection (cheapie cult classic from 1987, featuring a “martial arts rock band”)


Trade of Innocents (Dermot Mulroney and Mira Sorvino deal with human trafficking)

Up Heartbreak Hill (doc about Native American teens)

Why Stop Now (Piano prodigy [Jesse Eisenberg] struggles with his drug-addicted mom [Melissa Leo].)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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