I have been highly impressed by Mark Cousins’ ambitious 15 part documentary The Story Of Film – An Odyssey currently being shown on Channel 4. Unfortunately, I missed the first half dozen episodes, but have been glued to the second half.
Cousin’s delivery is slow and deliberate; the unusual rising cadence of his strong Northern Irish accent sounds like a comic reigning in the punch lines.
It sounds strange at first but quickly becomes quite seductive as, always off camera, he picks out precise details without being elitist or patronising.
His voiceover intro to the series justifiably boasts of its epic scale in that it covers 12 decades, 6 continents and over a thousand films. The fact that such a wide-ranging documentary got to be financed in these penny pinching times is little short of miraculous. It is undoubtedly money well spent with selective use of interviews which, refreshingly, are not dominated by glitzy stars and the usual talking heads.
Rather than focus on Hollywood films, Cousins takes a truly global perspective highlighting innovative movies from around the world and celebrating those filmmakers who dare to be different.
In the era of Thatcher and Reagan, for example, he singles out movies from China, Africa, America, Poland and Britain who were “saying truth to power”. For the epic movies of the 1970s Hong Kong, Bollywood and the Middle East take precedence over American blockbusters like Jaws, The Exorcist and Star Wars.
It’s all too easy to regard cinema solely as escapist corporate-led entertainment. Cousins brings passion and a fresh eye to the film history. His documentary, based on the book of the same title, is a timely reminder that the best movies respond to and reflect social change.