Sunday, October 9, 2011

Notes on the Story of Film

Mark Cousins
The Story of Film, the 15-hour long documentary about the history of innovation in the movies directed by Mark Cousins, is on telly now. It has caused some debates that Shadowplay blog encapsulates many of the main issues and concerns of debaters about SoF. Similar discussions (concerning accuracy and objectivity) aroused almost ten years ago, when JAZZ (Ken Burns), another ambitious and epic narration of history of an art form, was broadcast on PBS. Some experts were furious at the lack of any serious pause on modern jazz, when three hours (from 12) was dedicated to swing and big band of the 1930s. But nothing like JAZZ has happened since, and no new narrative has formed by any other filmmaker or scholar. So it is the sole visual history of jazz music, and I don't think anybody has the courage to break the silence, and fill the gap, and for instance, make a 10 hour long film about modern jazz. Now, as time is passed, many people are reconsidering the values and impacts of Burns' work. "In a classic example of how time can inevitably alter one’s prior impressions," one observes in his revisionist viewpoint of the Burns' work, "and this is not to say the series is without flaws...but taken as a whole for what it was, there has been no better pure television series on jazz music." [1]

All I'm trying to say is when we watch a project, as massive as this, reaching a balanced point in which our personal visions and desires, and limitations imposed by a very limiting format (public TV) could be very difficult. Criticism of a 15 hour long film, could be 8 times more than what a normal feature film can get. I believe Mark Cousins has done a very brave attempt, and like other acts of bravery in this medium (OUT 1?) I think taking this cinematic journey (and as Mark says, "a bumpy one") is more important than probably stopping the ride for the minor obstructions which happen during any long trip.

Buck Henry in the Story of Film (episode 8)
Even now, hardly reached the half of the series, I know that at least two universities in UK are using the Story of Film to teach film history and technique to bachelor students of film studies (one is Metropolitan University of London). So I think we must look at SoF as a good start for those youngsters who want to explore the world of cinema. I met a Japanese film study student who is watching the series and apparently so exited about it. Do you have any other suggestion for that young man to give him a broad view of an art form, show him nearly 1000 clips (films+interviews), and introduce him to Forough Farrokhzad, or the cinema of Noriaki Tsuchimoto, and at the same time keep the track of Scorsese and King Vidor?

I don't know any, so I'm happy for that Japanese student, and for myself.

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