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!