Writer and Director: Marc Cousins
Spending five days on a road trip in France with a famous film producer may sound like a golden opportunity and a great way to introduce a new documentary, but Marc Cousins spends most of the drive in companionable silence as his idol Jeremy Thomas drives them to Cannes via Orléans and Lyon. Interspersing interior shots in the car with the road ahead, toll barriers and the passing scenery with clips from Thomas’ films, this is an unusual approach to presenting a moviemaker’s biography.
Referring to Thomas as “The Prince”, Cousins’ film is a celebration of the producers work and influence across many decades conducted primarily outside the car as a voiceover interview between Cousins and Thomas in which the documentary-maker establishes several themes for the conversation which become chapters in his film which include politics, sex, death and Cannes, seen as the end of the annual moviemaking road and the most influential of the Festivals.
The road movie device is ultimately superfluous with the majority of the film spinning out from their time in Cannes which gives Thomas the opportunity to talk about the people he’s worked with and his approach to finding the next big project. As the film unfolds, Thomas’ broad ranging work from The Sheltering Sky to High Rise, Samurai Marathon to Sexy Beast and his industry influence are unarguable.
What The Storm of Jeremy Thomas lacks however is any critical perspective on its subject. Cousins is a fan, a devotee almost, betrayed by the poetic narratives that outline Thomas’ genius as well as his own descriptions of favourite scenes shown in montage, presented together to emphasise the consistency of approach while working with multiple directors and storytellers. This unchallenged sense of the producer’s artistic greatness is bolstered by enthusiastic comments from Tilda Swinton who joins Cousins in her admiration, between them comparing him to William Blake, Virginia Woolf, J.M.W. Turner and Malcolm McLaren. Radicals all.
But some of this rapture is incredibly troubling, particularly in the section devoted to sex scenes in notorious movies like Crash and The Dreamers. Cousins’ enthusiasm for these scenes and the consistency of their physicality is palpable, but there is no analysis or reference to how many of them predominantly suggest the male gaze and pleasure while looking at female nudity and sexual abandon. Of their time perhaps, but in 2021 the presentation of sex needs some reflection or context, and while controversial on their release, they are now problematic in a different way.
Running at 90-minutes, Cousins’ interview technique becomes less insightful as their time together draws on, descending into a game of word association that adds little insight. Instead, we are encouraged to learn about Thomas from the films he has made and there is a plethora of clips across more than 40-years of moviemaking which demonstrate his wide-ranging influence and consistency.
The Storm of Jeremy Thomas will please fans of his work but offers no more insight than watching his back catalogue could provide. Lacking any basic biography, how was a man born into a family of directors challenged and inspired by his proximity to filmmaking from early childhood and how has that shaped the controversy of his choices since. Thomas has earned power and considerable artistic respect during a long and consistently successful career but asking the audience to peer up at Thomas on his pedestal, in the end, isn’t much of a story.
The Storm of Jeremy Thomas is screening at the London Film Festival.