Mark Cousins has been presenting his critical essay ‘The story of film – An odyssey’ on Channel 4 for the last 8 weeks, who will have transmitted 15 episodes in total by the end. I cannot encourage people to watch this programme enough. I crave detailed, critical, revelatory documentaries and often find the same old predictable mess in terms of how historical documentaries are presented in the modern age. ‘The story of film’ does not succumb to any of the usual trappings a programme like this can sometimes make. It does not solely focus on the West, and Hollywood. In fact, more often than not, it excuses that ideal for the rebellious directors in Egypt, Italy, Sweden, Denmark,China, France and most notably Japan, where there is a strong focus on Yasujiro Ozu, who undoubtedbly appears to be Cousin’s favourite director. He does however continually refer to ‘Citizen Kane’, and still pays tribute to a lot of great American cinema.
What Cousins has managed to present is a vast array of moments in cinematic history, highlighting the optimism and trepidation of the times in equal measure, grounding the films in reality and avoiding schmaltz. In so doing this, he highlights the subtle technical and philosophical shifts in film making by the greatest film makers the world has seen, thus far. Hence, it also makes the future tangible and possible, and doesn’t just resign the viewer to nostalgic thinking that things were better in the old days. Films have been and always will be a joy, and will continue to invigorate new passions and ideas.
The series provides real, grounded insight and social context and detail that no programme would be able to without such length or ambition. The only other series I can think of that achieved this is the BBC’s history of Jazz 10 years ago.
One thing I will stress is that as much as I have tried to encourage people to watch this series, those that do struggle with the tone of Cousins as the narrator. I insist, that within a few episodes it is nothing of the aggravation you may anticipate it to be, and the rewards of the series are far, far greater.