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The Story Of Film: An Odyssey

Anne Marie here with a mixed blessing for film lovers. Turner Classic Movies is hosting the American premiere of The Story Of Film: An Odyssey, a fifteen part documentary on the history of film by documentary filmmaker Mark Cousins. Cousins, who looks like the Scottish love child of Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, spent 6 years researching and filming for his documentary series, and his efforts paid off. The Story Of Film: An Odyssey is even more fun (and informational) than a World Film college course.


Cousins does a great job of connecting moments in film to each other. He shows how the visual language of film was formed, and builds each step in the development of modern filmmaking. For example, in the premiere episode, Cousins shows us the first example of a closeup from a 1901 short called The Little Doctor and the Sick Kitten, in which a closeup is used to show in detail a sick kitten being fed. Then, Cousins shows how the closeup has evolved into something more powerful, first with a scene from an Eisenstein film, and then with a scene from Once Upon The Time In The West. Cousins narrates each episode in his own distinct style.

While you can enjoy and take notes from Cousins's extensive knowledge of world film history (as I have; who knew Swedish silent cinema was so cool??) keep in mind that every filmmaker is biased. Cousins's bias is against Hollywood. While I understand that he's attempting to expand his viewers' perspectives outside conventional Hollywood cinema, I disagree with his methods. Last week's episode was devoted to early Hollywood, and Cousins's favorite image to repeat is a Christmas ornament shattering on the rocks near the Hollywood sign. It gets heavy-handed. He also fails to define his terms, dubbing most of Hollywood "Romantic" cinema but then failing to discuss what constitutes "Classic" or "Realist" cinema, though he throws the terms around a lot. He does, however, call Erich Von Stroheim a "Realist" director. Von Stroheim was many things - an auteur, a fetishist, an innovator, an egoist - but he definitely wasn't interested in reality. But now I'm just showing you my bias.

Turner Classic Movies shows a new segment of The Story Of Film: An Odyssey every Monday night, with an encore every Tuesday. Also on Monday nights, TCM has a lineup of some of the films discussed by Cousins. The 15 part series will run into December, so if you're looking for something to do on Mondays besides laundry, definitely check it out!

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Reader Comments (8)

I've been watching it, and yeah, his anti-Hollywood sentiment is annoying and sometimes confusing. I get it, but it seems so weirdly overpowering. And I find his voice somewhat difficult to listen to for long periods of time - I sometimes want to slap him.

But it's AMAZING, just for all the ridiculously rare footage from all across the globe. Some of that silent footage is just breathtaking. Apparently there's a book, too. It's going on my Hanukkah list!

September 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I tried to watch The Story Of Film on Netflix a while back. I just couldn't suffer through the grating voice of the narrator. Now that it's on TCM tonight I might give it another shot. Or I might just stab a pencil in my ear.

September 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTy

I watched this series on DVD, and it is excellent -- a must for cinephiles. I wouldn't say that Mark Cousins has an anti-Hollywood bias so much as he has a bias in favor of world cinema innovative filmmaking, and visionary directors. My personal criticism is that that meant seeing a bit much of films and directors I've never heard of and didn't find at all interesting, and interviews where directors made no sense whatsoever. But that is a minor quibble -- the series has a wealth of information, fascinating analysis of many films, and a passion for cinema. One other warning: Cousins has a Northern Ireland accent, which is strange in its cadences, and that drives many people crazy. I found I got used to it pretty quickly so that I barely noticed it. Pay attention to what he says, and don't focus on how he says it, and you'll be fine. You may even find the soft, sing-song cadences soothing after a while, as I did.

September 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGregg

Yeah a project like this has the possibility to be super interesting, but I have no time for people who hate on Hollywood. Honestly, is there anything more intellectually and artistically facile than hating on popular forms of art?

September 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

This is now a must-watch for me, if only to see what the love child of Lynch and Tarantino would look like.

September 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

I don't mind northern Irish accents, I mind his northern Irish accent. Also I did listen to what he said( for two episodes). There was to much artsy jingoism, and pretentiousness for me... and I'm really pretentious.

September 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTy

Yes. what Gregg said. It's not anti-Hollywood at all, it's just putting America in it's proper place within the history of this great art installation we call cinema. Nothing facile at all about it. Hollywood produces a large amount of film, sure, but it doesn't produce a proportional amount of INFLUENTIAL film over the past century, compared with other countries (for example, just take one of the biggest American movements in film, the New New Wave of the 70s, and find out what its directors (Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Allen) say about how they were influenced by great directors like Kurosawa, Bergman and the French New Wave).

September 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

As many have stated so far, I couldn't stand the narration. I watched two parts before i had enough. his voice just completelty takes me out of it. It was far too distracting. I just kept thinking he should have hired someone to do the narration.

September 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

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