I’d never heard of this 15-part documentary series until I discovered it while browsing on Netflix I.V. I watched the first installment last night and got throroughly hooked.
Series creator and narrator Mark Cousins is a film critic from Northern Ireland. His 2004 book, also called The Story of Film, is the basis for this series. The entire series was also screened at MoMA last year.
Cousins is a provocateur, but an engaging one. In his 2012 review of the series, NYT film critic A.O. Scott accurately describes Cousins’s narration as “exquisitely dry and lilting,” and that drew me in as much as anything. You can get a sense of it from the trailer embedded below.
What I really liked about the first episode was how Cousins traced the development of film language, like match cutting, parallel editing and shot/reverse shot. Today we take this stuff for granted to the extent that we don’t even notice it. But all of these things had to be invented by people grappling with the limitations of a new and revolutionary storytelling medium. And by showing the earliest known examples of these techniques, Cousins illustrates just how imaginative they were compared to what came before them.
To the extent that Cousins has an agenda, in part it is to give unheralded film pioneers—including women and lesser-known foreign film makers—their due. And I got no beef with that at all.
I’m looking forward to the remaining 14 episodes.