Film Review: The Story of Film: A New Generation

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Mark Cousins

Take any era in more than a century of moviemaking and it will be considered definitive and influential. Mark Cousins’ new documentary, in cinemas and available for digital download, is a celebration of twenty-first century film. Premiering at Cannes and the London Film Festival, The Story of Film: A New Generation explores how creatives have employed new techniques, approaches and visual styles to extend the possibilities of cinemas in its expression of human experience.

Divided into three chapters, the film is the most comprehensive survey of contemporary film that you could experience in one sitting. With its widely inclusive international focus, Cousins draws together films from around the world and, like Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema series, he highlights shot-by-shot parallels or influences between movies from earlier eras of cinema as well as noting stylistic connections and trends in films from as far afield as India, New Zealand, France and China which dilutes the usual US-UK focus of such endeavours.

At 1 hour and 20 minutes, Sections 2 is the longest as Cousins focuses on how modern films have extended the nature of cinema by mixing unexpected techniques to subvert audience expectations. Taking a genre-by-genre assessment of these developments, Cousins includes PK by Rajkumar Hitrani, Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock and November by Rainer Sarnet, arguing, in some detail, that there has been a comprehensive reassessment of movie styles in the last 10 years that has created greater fluidity in the ways that stories are told and bringing different genres closer together. This has led to the revival and rethinking of categories like horror to  give them a new lease of life and her Cousins makes a convincing case.

The second strand focuses specifically on novel filming and performance approaches that have expanded the possibilities for new and well-known filmmakers. From the proliferation of streaming services to the rise of phone cameras and virtual reality technology, Cousins calls on examples including Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language, Tsai Ming Liang’s The Deserted VR and The Look of Silence by Joshua Oppenheimer for a 45-minute segment that considers how the film business has and is changing, creating opportunities on both the large and small scale.

The final portion of the documentary, running at around 35-minutes looks at the eclectic ways in which human experiences are being recorded by moviemakers. Cousins argues that the changing nature of performance and presentation of faces on screen has shifted, not least in the use of animation or the partially obscured face of Michael Fassbender covered by Frank’s papier-mâchéd head that demands a different approach to emotion and perception in both actor and cinemagoer.

At 2 hours and 40 minutes The Story of Film: A New Generation is a big commitment, one that becomes increasingly overwhelming as the documentary unfolds and may be easier to consume chapter-by-chapter for digital viewers who can pause and reflect as needed. The breadth of the survey and connections that Cousins draws is a mighty feat and if it inspires you to seek out even a fifth of the movies he references then The Story of Film: A New Generation will have done its job.

Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: A New Generation is released in cinemas and on demand from 17 December. Tickets & Info.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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