The story of film
What: Discussions about The Story of Film: An Odyssey
WHEN: 7pm Thurs., Feb. 18, March 18, April 15, May 20, June 17, July 15, and beyond
Cost: Free; registration is required
Info: http://www.wcls.org or www.kanopy.com
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
In the before times, the thought of consuming a 15-hour, 900-minute documentary about the history of films would’ve been exhausting. Sure, you might have wanted to settle in for the long haul in order to better understand how the birth of silent movies gave rise to a multi-billion-dollar industry, but social obligations, work commutes and everyday responsibilities would’ve made the feat a far-off fantasy.
However, if you find yourself with a lot more time on your hands as you wait out worst of the pandemic by staying home as much as possible, it’s worth circling back to Irish filmmaker, film critic and historian Mark Cousins’ 2011 epic undertaking, The Story of Film: An Odyssey.
Thanks to the Whatcom County Library System, you don’t have to go at it alone. On the third Thursday of every month, they’re hosting Zoom conversations led by local film historian Lance Rhoades about each of the 15 episodes that make up the sprawling cinematic experience.
Beginning from the 15th episode and working their way back, they began with “Cinema Today and the Future” in December, continued with “New American Independents and the Digital Revolution” in January, and will hone in on “New Boundaries: World Cinema in Africa, Asia, and Latin America” at 7pm Thurs., Feb. 18.
Subsequent episodes that will be up for discussion include “Fight the Power: Protest in Film,” “The Arrival of Multiplexes and Asian Mainstream,” “Movies to Change the World,” “American Cinema of the 1970s,” “New Directors, New Form,” “European New Wave,” “Sex and Melodrama,” “Post-War Cinema,” “The Arrival of Sound,” “The Golden Age of World Cinema,” and “The Hollywood Dream.”
In the introduction to the first episode, “Birth of the Cinema,” movies from Saving Private Ryan to Casablanca, The French Connection, Odd Man Out, Taxi Driver, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, and The Record of a Tenement Gentleman are referenced before Cousins takes a deep dive into films that were produced from 1895-1918.
“It provides a fresh and thought-provoking look at the grand history of the movies from around the world, blockbusters and the avant-garde included” WCLS staffers say of the series Cousins produced, directed and narrated over the course of six years. “The roles of technology, politics and cinema’s ongoing dialogue with its own legacy are all brought to bear in this sweeping study.”
Those working their way backwards through history by watching the series on platforms such as Kanopy.com—which is free for those with WCLS or Bellingham Public Library cards—may choose to stick with the programming by parsing out each episode or binge-watching them all and then joining in to find out what Rhoades has to say and adding their own observations to the mix.
The Story of Film was based on Cousins’ 2004 book of the same name, and it’s clear that his love of the medium was what compelled him to undertake the herculean task of looking at movies spanning more than 100 years and distilling his observations into a fascinating watch that includes 40 interviews with both well-known and indie directors, hundreds of film references and his own take on the Hollywood fame machine.
“With all its talk of box office, the film business would have us believe that money drives movies,” Cousins says in the trailer to The Story of Film. “Ticket sales, marketing, glamour, premieres, red carpets. But it doesn’t. Money doesn’t drive cinema. The money men don’t know the secrets of the human heart or the brilliance of the medium of film.
“But if money doesn’t drive movies, what does?” he queries. “It’s images and ideas that excite us, not money or showbiz. But if the business people don’t control film, who does? Who knows how to get inside your head? David Lynch does. And Baz Luhrmann does. And in a different way, Samira Makhmalbaf does. The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a global road movie to find the innovators, the people in film who give life to the sublime, ineffable art form—cinema. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
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