Maybe not quite complete, but pretty damn close…
The Complete Story of Film consists of two documentaries directed and narrated by Mark Cousins, whose impressive resume includes numerous books and features on the subject. 2011’s The Story of Film: An Odyssey is aptly named…over 15 hours divided into chapters, each focusing on a particular era or theme. Cousins’ 2021 follow-up, The Story of Film: A New Generation, is a two-part, three hour examination that primarily discusses films and directors of the 21st Century. Together, this is an exhaustive look at the medium’s 130 year history. If you think you already know it all, think again.
Dating all the way back to the mid-1890s, we’re shown the earliest examples of moving images and those who invented them, the evolution from nickelodeon-type entertainment to screenings for mass audiences, the first films with actual stories, and most importantly, technical innovations. The early chapters are especially interesting, where we can appreciate the first attempts at actual editing, special effects and experiments with camera movement.
The Story of Film is more-or-less told chronologically, though Cousins often presents examples of technical or creative firsts by pioneering directors, followed by clips of modern films which utilize the same techniques and concepts. And really, it’s amazing how many of cinema’s best tricks are actually over a century old.
|Since every story needs a bad guy, we give you the man who remade Psycho.|
Of course, both documentaries feature hundreds and hundreds of film clips - classic & obscure - along with commentary & interviews explaining their artistry, relevance to the era and historical significance. Acquiring the rights to all of ‘em must have been a logistical nightmare, but chances are the viewer’s gonna be introduced to quite a few films to put on their gotta-see list.
However, Cousins’ subjectivity is an occasional distraction. I suppose that’s unavoidable, but his personal preferences do keep this from being a truly complete history. He’s clearly in love with existential & experimental cinema, which is fine, but just because one doesn’t appreciate the more exploitative side of the industry doesn’t make it less historically relevant (with a handful of notable exceptions, the genres of science-fiction, horror and erotica are virtually ignored).
As for his narration, it ranges from academic and analytical to openly fawning over certain directors (while being comparatively dismissive of others). And even though he doesn’t overtly express it, one can sense he doesn’t hold much of “Hollywood” in high regard, particularly once digital filmmaking became commonplace.
Still, The Complete Story of Film is an epic journey through cinema history, from its birth to speculation about the future. Subjectively, there are bound to be some glaring omissions (What? No Solaris? No Apocalypse Now? For shame!), but it’s hard to argue what Mark Cousins chooses to include. Revealing, knowledgeable and entertaining, the sheer scope of this thing makes it essential viewing for cinephiles.
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Includes an interview with director-narrator Mark Cousins; a multi-chapter chronicle on the making of the film by Cousins; index of film clips & directors featured in each chapter.