Monday, October 7, 2013


My favorite TV channel, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has done it again. Over the past several weeks on Monday nights it's been running episodes from Mark Cousins's documentary THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY. It's one man's (or mainly his) interpretation of what is most important in that history, and I don't agree with all his conclusions, or even connections, but it's still been a treat to watch.

I taught film criticism and film history in a college for a few years back in the early '70s, and wrote movie reviews and then spent a few decades of my life working in the film industry, so I know a little about it. What's most original about this history of film is its inclusiveness. Unlike earlier "American" attempts at film history, Cousins recognizes the influence of international filmmaking on Hollywood and not just vice versa.

A lot of classic international films that were overlooked in earlier histories of the movies are included here, as well as a lot of the usual Hollywood suspects. But Cousins's take on even those expected films is usually skewed in a unique way, emphasizing and focusing on scenes and interpretations that go beyond the familiar to the sometimes almost deliberately contrary.

Not as consistently compelling as a more tightly edited version might have been, still the interludes of contemporary (the film was made, or at least first shown, in 2011) clips of real landscapes and scenes with Cousins's voiceover in his Irish accent (that will probably sound a little unfamiliar to those used to typical movie brogues or NPR reporters more schooled Irish accents) would make up a very interesting experimental documentary on its own.

His film making sometimes reflects what's he's discussing or emphasizes it, but equally often seems almost perversely arbitrary, ultimately making the entire fifteen episode (originally) documentary a unique film experience worth having. And on top of that, after each episode is aired TCM shows one of the seminal "foreign" films mentioned in that nights' episode, so that if you had the time and watched every episode every Monday night and then the film shown afterwards, you'd have a few semesters worth of advanced film history under your belt.

You should at least catch one Monday night's showing, just to see what a unique trip it can be.

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