It’s a 15-part, 15-hour documentary on the entire history of film, and very enjoyable.
Easy to take apart this kind of project. Are Cousins’s choices idiosyncratic in places? Of course – but how could they not be? Is any individual person going to agree with each of his sentences that begins “this is the greatest x, y, or z in the history of film”? Obviously not. Will some people find him insufficiently theoretical, or whatever else? No doubt.
“The story of film” is going to be a subjective one no matter who is telling it, and Cousins doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. What you find in this series is a very nicely organized narrative touching upon (necessarily briefly) an enormous range of highlights in the history of cinema. Each episode averages 35 or 40 or so clips (a list can be found here), and on the whole they are beautifully chosen. Cousins also often juxtaposes two scenes from quite different times and places as visual echoes – sometimes explicit inspirations for the director under discussion, sometimes not.
One of the crucial choices for the series – and the book which preceded it – was to re-orientate our usual focus upon Hollywood and American film more generally. Instead, Cousins spends greater time than is the norm on other continents – with East Asian, Latin American, African, Iranian film. So I am guessing the series will provide at least a few discoveries for all but the more widely-travelled filmgoer.
Episode 1. Introduction; 1895-1918: The World Discovers a New Artform; Thrill Becomes Story
Episode 2. 1918-1928: The Triumph of American Film…; …And the First of Its Rebels
Episode 3. 1918-1935: The Great Rebel Filmmakers Around the World
Episode 4. The 1930s: The Great American Movie Genres…; …And the Brilliance of European Film
Episode 5. 1939-1952: The Devastation of War…and a New Movie Language
Episode 6. 1953-1957: The Swollen Story: World Cinema Bursting at the Seams
Episode 7. 1957-1964: The Shock of the New – Modern Filmmaking in Western Europe
Episode 8. 1965-1969: New Waves Sweep Around the World
Episode 9. 1967-1979: New American Cinema
Episode 10. 1969-1979: Radical Directors in the 70s Make State of the Nation Movies
Episode 11. 1970s and Onwards: Innovation in Popular Culture Around the World
Episode 12. The 1980s: Moviemaking and Protest Around the World
Episode 13. 1990-1998: The Last Days of Celluloid Before the Coming of Digital
Episode 14. The 1990s: The First Days of Digital – Reality Losing Its Realness in America and Australia
Episode 15. 2000 Onwards: Film Moves Full Circle – and the Future of Movies; Epilogue: The Year 2046
I’ve only just begun watching it and will probably say more over time. Am skipping around for some reason – have so far seen episodes 1, 3, 8, 10, and 13.