Cousins has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and the gift of articulating his enthusiasm for movies.
This talent is also evident in interviews he conducted for the BBC Scotland between 1999 and 2001 in a series called Scene By Scene.
The idea, which originated at the Edinburgh Film Festival through an interview with Sean Connery, was a simple one. Top directors and actors were shown clips from films they had made or appeared in and talk about the background to them.
Cousins is from Ulster and his Irish accent is often confused for Scots. From comments on various forums, it’s obvious that his speaking voice irritates the hell out of many. Personally, I find the sing-song quality charming but whatever you may think about how he talks, it’s hard to criticise him for the passion and preparation he puts into his work.
Television is so full of shallow chat shows or banal documentaries that tell you nothing, that it’s a pleasure to find someone who doesn’t insult or patronise the audience.
He wrote a book based on the Scene By Scene interviews but, so far as I know, the BBC (not for the first time) are sitting on important archives rather than putting them in the public domain where they belong.
Fortunately, many kind souls have uploaded some of the shows to You Tube – the links are shown below. In order of preference they are:
Lynch was interviewed after just completing The Straight Story (1999) and before Mulholland Drive. He is always a fascinating interviewee, as much for what he leaves out as for what he says. Here he tells us what he means by the ‘eye of the duck’ scene in his movies and why gazing at the stars is so important.
Allen’s latest movies are generally very poor so this is a reminder of how good his earlier funny films were. After he finishes a movie he makes a point of never watching it again so, although Cousins is showing clips, Allen has his back to the screen saying he doesn’t need to see it as he know it from memory. This is one of those great interviews that prompted me to make a reappraisal of an artist I had all but written off.
Polanski comes with a lot of baggage so it’s no great surprise that he is not Mr.Genial in this situation. “I cater to myself” he says and is irritated by many of Cousins probing for symbolism and hidden meanings. The tense atmosphere is what makes it such a revealing interview.
Scorsese could, and usually does, talk till the cows come home about camera angles, lighting methods, soundtracks etc. His knowledge of the history of cinema and his place in it knows no bounds. Cousins has found his match.
Brian De Palma
De Palma is a cagey, closed character but Cousins draws him out skilfully – not a likeable guy but an interesting director for all that.
Coburn is full of great anecdotes and tells us why he loved the flawed and self-destructive Sam Peckinpah so much.
Demme is so sorted out and balanced that, while this is an interesting chat, mostly about his movie Beloved, this is not so riveting as the more ‘difficult’ subjects in the series.
Stamp could have been as big as Michael Caine, he even turned down the role in the original Alfie movie. He talks here about some fairly obscure films made after he burst on the movie scene in the 1960s and says why he loved working with Fellini and Pasolini.
Bertolucci is as arrogant and dull as most of his movies so this is , for me, the least interesting of the set.
The Scene By Scene programmes that are not available are, in alphabetical order : Lauren Bacall, Jeff Bridges, Kirk Douglas, Tom Hanks, Dennis Hopper, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Steve Martin, Jeanne Moreau, Jane Russell, John Sayles, Paul Schrader, Rod Steiger and Donald Sutherland.If anyone knows where any, or all, of these can be seen I’d be eternally grateful for the links or sources.