In 2011 writer/director Mark Cousins put the finishing
touches on his documentary on the history of the cinema:
The Story of Film. He subtitled the
work An Odyssey, and that's a
very apt title. The final work is a
meandering trip running 15 hours in length, but it's also an exciting
that is very thorough. The bravura work
serves as an excellent and comprehensive introduction to the history of
movies, but it also contains a lot for veteran film buffs to discover. It's a wonderful and entertaining film course
in a box.
One of the greatest strengths that this series has is that
it takes a chronological approach while documenting the history of one
most popular forms of entertainment today, but only sort of. It's not a linear progression from Edison to the present, but more of a wandering,
journey that concerns itself with themes and the ideas behind the films
that which page of the calendar was up when the movies hit the
discussion of silent comedy, for example, starts with Buster Keaton,
to mention Jacques Tati's M. Hulot's
Holiday, talks about Charlie Chaplin, and ties those films to Elia
Divine Intervention before coming
back to Harold Lloyd and then touches upon the early work of Yasujiro
Ozu. It may sound disjointed but it's not. The discussion flows easily from one film to
the next though they may be separated by both decades and continents.
That's another of this program's strong points: The
Story of Film takes a truly global look
the medium. Though Hollywood
is the indisputable center of filmmaking in the world, not everyone who
making movies is in sunny California. The series spans the entire globe, discussing
important films and filmmakers no matter where they lived and worked. Such diverse directors as Andrei Tarkovsky
from Russia, the
director Youssef Chahine, Indian Mani Kaui, the excellent Polish
Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Japan's
Akira Kurosawa are all mentioned, to name just a few.
The great thing about having fifteen hours to tell the story
is that the US
studios aren't ignored either. From
mainstream directors like Billy Wilder, John Ford, and Howard Hawks to
edgy filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah, David Lynch, and Spike Lee, the
strives to integrate Hollywood
into the larger picture of film history instead of having it eclipse
Filled with clips from a myriad of truly great films and
many interviews with actors and directors (including Stanley Donen, Baz
Luhrman, Lars Von Trier, and Wim Wenders) who mainly talk about films
filmmakers they love rather than their own body of work, this is an
and informative way to spend fifteen hours.
That's not to say that it's without its flaws however.
While there are a couple of small,
inconsequential, points where I disagree with Cousins, it did feel like
a bias against Hollywood's
output. He did cover it adequately but
he uses a glass Christmas tree ornament, something nice and pretty to
but lacking weight and fragile, and a metaphor for the US film industry. The bauble, as he calls it, presenting a
reality that never existed. He overuses
the metaphor, showing the same slow motion footage of the ball breaking
several episodes whenever he starts talking about more realistic
almost always from other countries.
After about the third time I wanted to scream "yes, I get it!"
Cousins, who wrote, directed, and was the cinematographer
for the original footage used in the series, wasn't doing enough for
project apparently and so narrated the whole thing too.
I think he should have hired a professional
voice actor. He's very monotone in his
delivery and his Northern
Ireland accent becomes a little
grating if you're
bing-watching the series. There weren't
major flaws however and they shouldn't stop someone from checking out
This 15-episode series arrived on an ample five discs.
These are housed in a foldout book, with two
overlapping discs per page, with a pocket for the booklet (see the
extras for more information on that). This is all stored in a very
slipcase. It's a nice package all
The stereo soundtrack fits this documentary well. The
narration is clean and clear and there
aren't any defects worth noting. Some of
the vintage film soundtracks have a bit of background noise in a couple
spots, but this is very minor.
Unfortunately there are no subtitles.
The 1.78:1 image looks fine.
Since this series is contains a large number of clips from
movies and old interviews the source material sometimes shows its age,
creators were able to track down a large number of quality clips. Viewers will be happy with what they see.
There isn't much in the way of extras, just an amusing
condensation of the entire series into 90 seconds.
While I usually like bonus material I'm fine
that there isn't much included on the discs.
The series speaks for itself and I didn't feel that bonus
have improved the package much, though I would have enjoyed seeing some
unused footage from the interviews that he conducted.
The best extra isn't found on the discs, but rather in side
the foldout box. There's a 44-page
booklet where Cousins tells how the series came to be made. It's an interesting story.
The booklet also includes a list of films
clips used for the series, by episode.
It's a pretty impressive list.
This is a truly excellent series and one of my favorite
documentaries on the history of film.
Get this set and for every episode watch a couple of the films
and you'll be more educated on film than by taking an introductory
class. A must-see for an film fan. Highly Recommended.