The Story of Film: An Odyssey – Review
by Frank L.
Compiled by Mark Cousins
There are three hour-long episodes to this wide-ranging survey of film from the earliest days up to 1932. However, Cousins surprisingly begins outside that period with scenes from Steven Spielberg’s 1998 war epic “Saving Private Ryan”. He shows underwater shots of soldiers flailing around underwater on D-Day 1944 as above the surface bullets are flying in all directions, as the invading forces seek to establish a foothold on the Normandy beaches. But Spielberg shot these scenes on a quiet beach on the southeast coast of Ireland. Not mincing his words Cousins states that what the viewer sees is “a lie to tell the truth” so that the viewer feels that they were there.
He then cuts to Krzysztof Kieslowski “Three Colours Blue” (1993) with a young girl, eyes shut, enjoying the warmth of the sun as it shines on her face. The scene changes, by the use of white light, to a city street with an old lady struggling to place an empty bottle in a recycling bin and then cuts back to the young girl whose face is in sunlight. Cousins then states this is another aspect of film namely the art of empathy.
He states that filmmaking is about visual ideas and it is that which drives his survey rather than money-making and glamour. With a nod to the classic “Casablanca” which was made on set in Hollywood, he goes back to the very beginning of filmmaking in the late nineteenth century.
He takes the period from 1895 to 1918 as his first tranche. He tells about the experimental filmmakers in the United States and in Europe and the initial prominent place of women in making movies when they were silent. He explains subsequently how Hollywood came to dominate the world of filmmaking and how the role of women in the process became diminished. However, his knowledge is universal and he shows how filmmakers from other locations provided different insights into film making which challenged the powerful Hollywood genre.
Throughout he illustrates and explains how various cinematic techniques came to be used. His knowledge and understanding of film are vast and he is blessed with an easy ability to communicate his passion for filmmaking and its visual ideas.
The sub-title is an Odyssey and that is what this fascinating collection is. It is an odyssey with Mark Cousins making his erudition easily accessible. It is a privilege to accompany him on this journey and to share his insights.