The Story of Film: An Odyssey

FilmInk\'s intern Stephanie Todd, a 15 year old high schooler, put this item together around the first disc of the groundbreaking documentary, The Story of Film: An Odyssey.


Smashing the movie myths and going back to basics with documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Yet another tedious documentary which recounts the driest parts in the history of film, you might be thinking. There will definitely be some very long and nostalgic narration praising the ingenuity of the old, boring filmmakers, reminiscing about how ‘different it was back then’. You’ll be happy to know, this cinematic voyage does not embark in such a fashion.

I was very surprised when first our narrator, with his strong Irish accent, remarks that film is not about the box office or the media or the promotion. Or that Casablanca is not a classic! Now that was a shock for me!

In fact, it is refreshingly different to hear a film expert not mindlessly praise some dusty old tape and call it genius just because it is a classic. Indeed, Mark Cousins, director and narrator of this piece, specifically calls Japanese cinema full of real classics, and says romances like Casablanca move too fast to be a true classic.

Finally! A breath of fresh air! A new opinion! Don’t get me wrong, I love Casablanca, I just want to hear something new, fresh and different. For this is not so much a look at film; it is an introduction into WHY some films are as highly praised as they are. And can I just say that this is a topic which most definitely needs to be addressed. As a budding film critic, I often struggle to understand what my elders see in some films. I mean, I didn’t see what made ­E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial as iconic as it is! I was personally quite bored by it, and thought it dragged on. But anyway, leaving my personal vendettas aside, The Story of Film: An Odyssey is interesting in the way that it takes us back to basics, and tells us what we’re missing when we’re unexplainably bored while watching some old film.

Having only watched Disc 1 of 5 so far, I’m not completely in the know on how good the rest of the show is going to be, but based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks promising! I’m seeing the origins of film, the close-up, the tracking shot and the beginning of editing (actually cutting and pasting takes together). Most importantly this in-depth study of film gives us actual examples of how iconic moments in film came to be so renowned.

Just a quick example: having seen Hugo early last year, I was distinctly underwhelmed. I thought it had good 3D and amazing visuals, but what was the whole big deal about the old guy, whatever his name was…George Melies. I stand corrected – the father of movie special effects is to be commended for jamming his film one day and inventing ‘the magic trick’, which gave birth to basic special effects.

What’s more, so far the documentary has been slowly exploring trends in film, and showing the natural progression of cinema, which I hardly need to say is fascinating. Seeing how the big bucks got to Hollywood is frankly enthralling.

In particular, however, The Story of Film: An Odyssey has really hit me because of the point it raises early on. It says that it is not the box office or the Hollywood moguls which make cinema what it is. It’s ideas, innovation and passion. The tracking shot, the conversation and the ‘meanwhile’ shots make cinema the art form it is.

Mark Cousins clearly loves cinema and is not afraid to call out the myths that I know, for me at least, have been instilled since I was a child. Adapted from his 2004 novel The Story of Film, this documentary is something different, I reckon. I look forward to Cousins’ take on more modern cinema in later episodes.

A real eye-opener, one which any film buff should really catch, just to clear up all the fuzzy stuff which can cloud your understanding of how film came to be what it is!


Episode 2

Cinema in the Western World for Episode Two of The Story of Film: An Odyssey

This is where the big guns come in. In the first episode we were watching the infancy of cinema; seeing the origins of various techniques considered very simple in today’s world. However in this second episode we start in on gritty content.

I don’t mean to imply that we start seeing dry and boring stuff we don’t really care about; more that we start to see how the first episode melds into the second one. We are looking at the birth of Hollywood’s most well-renowned period. We see the infamous moguls and big production companies appear. But the real focus is on the directors (and usually stars as well) of this new era of filmmaking.

Now that films have story arcs and are not just sequences of wonder, we are looking at modern cinema at its most basic (minus the sound of course). We are taken on whirlwind stories of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, we see the great studios and the directors who dared to show realistic films and burst the shiny bubble Hollywood survived on.

As someone with an interest in history, I found it absolutely fascinating to see the birth of iconic film techniques! Obviously the author and narrator, Mark Cousins, is a very knowledgeable film historian, and so I found myself wowed to silence as he explains hidden depths to features I would never have taken great notice of. It’s a real aid to have someone quite as in the know as him, pointing out the innovation in old movies.

Think the beginning of The Artist…just that the talkies haven’t arrived yet.

An interesting continuation, but with a little more historical content than our more theoretical first episode!


Episode 3

‘Say What Now?’ in Episode Three of The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Recently I was reading that Tokyo Story had been voted the greatest film of all time in a 2012 poll. My reaction was to go look up this film I had NEVER HEARD ABOUT BEFORE. That’s a problem, if the greatest film of all time is something you’ve never heard about, let alone seen.

The focus shifts in the third episode. This is where The Story of Film: An Odyssey shows its difference to other similar shows. No, our host Mark Cousins seems to say, we don’t just look at the Western world and the most promoted parts of history. We look at northern Europe and Asia; the places we wouldn’t dream iconic cinema would come out of.

For me, this was uncharted territory. I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of these directors in Germany, Russia, Japan and the like! Seriously, how could you be thinking that some of the greatest films of all time came from Japan, when we never hear of anything but anime from them!?

Actually, arguably the greatest director of all time (Yasujiro Ozu) came from Japan, proving the point Cousins makes in the first episode that ideas, innovation and passion are what matter, not publicity. If you haven’t heard of Ozu, apparently he’s the greatest of all time, but he seems a little unknown to us Westerners, brought up on the milk of Hollywood. Also featured are Germany’s Ernst Lubitsch, Russia’s Sergei Eisenstein, Japan’s Kenji Mizoguchi, and China’s great actress Ruan Lingyu.

Expect to hear a lot about people you’ve never heard about. Not being an expert in old film, I knew next to nothing about all these people, but who knows, maybe for some of you movie geeks this is old news…

All the same, still entertaining and informative on parts of film history with frankly little to no coverage.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey is released in Australia on February 20, 2013. You can pre-order your copy here.



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