Thursday, December 19, 2013


I recently watched the final episode of THE STORY OF FILM on TCM. This ambitious 15 part documentary does just what it's title says, it tells the story of film from the very beginning right up to present day. I saw most of the episodes and while I must admire the amount of work, research, interviews and film making that went into making this behemoth of a series, I must confess to having a few quibbles with the production.

Let's get one thing clear right from the start. This series is not just about Hollywood history and American film.While key American movies are included in the series, the primary focus is on world cinema and thus features films from almost every country on the globe. While that's certainly admirable, many of the films that were featured are extremely obscure "artsy-fartsy" films that have most likely never had an American theatrical release outside of New York and Los Angeles. Oh sure, they've probably received screenings at various international film festivals and I suspect many of these films have been written about in the pages of Film Comment magazine (and other publications). But the question is, how many people outside of the respective countries of origin have actually seen these films? And of those members of an admittedly narrow and specialized audience, how many really and truly liked them? I must confess that I saw very little in the clips presented in the series that made me want to see any of these films (provided they're even available from any source).

Filmmaker Mark Cousins and TCM host Robert Osborne co-introduced each episode and the contrast between the two was striking. Robert Osborne was always impeccably attired and well-groomed. He came across, as he always does, as a consummate professional. He's genial and knowledgeable and he does his job extremely well. Cousins, on the other hand, looked like he just got out of bed ten minutes before the cameras started rolling. The man doesn't appear to own any pairs of socks or a comb of any kind. His droning, monotone voice over becomes wearying after awhile and the way he pronounces "innovative" (as he does in every episode) always cracked me up.

The final episode, which covered post 9/11 cinema, focused once again primarily on foreign films. Only three non-documentary U.S. produced films were included in this final roundup. The films were James Cameron's AVATAR (which I didn't care for), THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (one of the ten worst films I've seen in the last ten years) and MULHOLLAND DRIVE ( I will not see a single frame of film shot by David Lynch). And it's not just that Cousins finds these films notable out of all of the American films produced in the last ten years. It's that he finds some hideously obscure film from Thailand (I'm not making this up) far more "innovative" and better. Are you kidding me?

I think Cousins has justly won the award that we're presenting to him this evening. Too bad there's no financial component attached to this prestigious award. Cousins could use the money to not only buy a pair of socks and a comb but an entire wardrobe because, let's face, this emperor's nekkid.

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