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Gharib Ahmad Rauf,
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Film critic and historian 'Mark Cousins' uses film clips, interviews with filmmakers, and illustrative footage of locations around the world to take viewers through film and filmmaking history, from the late 19th century to today, with a particular emphasis on world cinema. Written by
Mark Cousins is an Honorary Professor of the University of Glasgow. See more »
Himself - Presenter:
[blurry 1900s footage]
Real human courage and imagination goes into a shot like this. The camera and the guy are really strapped to the plane as it does a scary loop-T-loop.
Himself - Presenter:
[crisp CGI aerial approach from Gladiator, 2000]
Hard work and long hours spent in relative comfort, eating pizza, got a shot like this.
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Full disclosure: this review is based solely on the first two episodes, recently aired on TCM here in Canada. (I would have waited to post after the remaining 13 episodes if I had any intention of watching them.) I eagerly awaited this series. My patience was not rewarded.
A common theme in the reviews and reactions to Cousins' epic undertaking is Cousins himself. His tremendously irritating presence throughout, to be specific. The constant voice-overs, never allowing a single movie clip to play out. His short, meaningless observations. His 'aren't I clever' tone. He is reason #1 that will keep me from episodes 3-15. And, more than anything, the sense that you're at the world's longest book reading, listening to the man read his Story of Film companion book.
His use of bad metaphors and forced symbolism within the storytelling would be another. The 'shiny bauble' he hangs from a branch somewhere in the Hollywood Hills, so as to set up that particular one. (A Christmas tree ornament? Really?) His dearth of interview subjects. Of all the thousands of industry folk, film historians, fans, actors, theatre owners -- all we get is a handful of voices beyond Cousins' own. And even those are often irrelevant to the subject at hand. Stanley Donen, a major player several decades after silent film -- and one who, ironically, was best known for his musicals -- speaks during the segment covering the pivotal years of silent film.
Then again, perhaps Donen was an appropriate choice, given that the majority of the clips shown during the first half hour of this 'silent' segment are from films made decades later.
Which leads to reason #....well, I've lost count.
Cousins jumps around freely, ignoring his own narrative signposts. Part way through episode 2, he stumbles upon Nanook of the North, considered one of the first documentaries. (Despite what has since been revealed to be significant staging.) Next thing we know, he's off on a tour of documentary film -- and showing what are, even to film buffs, obscure examples from the genre. Then, let's see, where were we? Oh, right -- the 1920s. Stay with me, folks.
In discussing The Thief of Baghdad, he cuts to present-day Baghdad to make some obvious point about how Hollywood apparently takes liberties with these things. boy, next thing he'll be telling us that Rick never even owned a café in Casablanca! Finally, there is his propensity for errors, such as when he shows a shot of two people beneath the famous tree in Gone With The Wind, noting how the camera pulls back from the lovers. The observation would be more keen, however, if the 'lovers' weren't Scarlett and her father. Then again, it's not like it's a film one gets many chances to see, so perhaps that's the problem.
I'll read and watch just about anything about movies. The good, the bad. For me to not stick around to see this 'odyssey' to its conclusion, it has to be really bad. Unbearable, in fact.
As I said up top, I've already jumped ship.
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