Now and then, we all need an inspirational reminder of how wonderful cinema can be at its very best. With his 2011, 15-hour essay film The Story of Film, Mark Cousins delivered this inspiration by the bucket load. Watching The Story of Film is like witnessing for the first time the cinematic moment that ignited your love for the art form. The film is an extremely passionate and enthusiastic love letter to world cinema.
Cousins took short clips from important films made all around the world, he then intercut them with his messy and kinetic footage of the places that those films were made, and interviews with the great filmmakers that made them. Cousins fits the pieces of cinema together as though he were a child with a jigsaw puzzle, he achieves a delightful tone of having fun or playing, never is the film hard work, yet it remains an enjoyable challenge throughout.
The Story of Film also never remains standing in one place for too long, it instead quickly scampers about, taking small bites out of all film genres, a wide range of world cultures, and an entire library of innovative directors; the film moves around like an interested child with a brand new toy. It is then only natural that Cousins’ next film, A Story of Children and Film, focuses its attention on some of the art form’s most interesting and childlike subjects, children.
The foundations of A Story of Children and Film can be found in Ben and Laura, these are Cousins’ young niece and nephew. One morning he films them both as they play with a marble building set, the shot is static, never moving to better capture their occasional displacement within the frame. Ben and Laura move freely, not limited by any forced or artificial direction from Cousins.
They are like fish in a tank, interacting with their environment with a range of constantly changing, but subtle emotions. These emotions are what allow us to question what childhood is. How does it affect the rest of your life? And, how is it portrayed similarly in contrasting types of cinema from all over the world?
Using examples from 53 films, made in 25 different countries, Cousins picks apart the emotions he witnesses in Ben and Laura while playing, and relates them to how childhood is shown through the eyes of the movies. These, at first, include shyness, in which we see examples from mainstream classics such as E.T., but also little-seen masterpieces like Kaige Chen’s Yellow Earth. The film encourages us to see in great depth, child behaviour on-screen, and how directors can use innovative film techniques to allow us deeper understanding of those behaviours.
The film then moves into other aspects of childhood such as class differences, performing or showing off for audiences, and experiencing childish tantrums. In these, we see more examples from films such as The Night of the Hunter, Meet Me in St. Louis and Great Expectations. But, for every film shown that you know and love, there is at least one you may be unaware of, and about to love. We are shown the same traits of childhood in other films from Hungry, China, Czechoslovakia, Russia and many more. These are very obscure films that, for the most part, you may never have had a chance of finding by yourself. While watching, it is extremely beneficial to come prepared with pen and paper, note down any films that capture your interest and explore them deeper in your own time.
Like The Story of Film, A Story of Children and Film is an admiring salute to the art form we all love. Within its edits and structure lies a love that is very caring and warm towards cinema, but also to being and experiencing a child in this world. Cinema is like a child, it is still extremely young in its history; the baby of all the arts you might say. Like a parent, we are sometimes disappointed or angry at the cinema, sometimes, we are annoyed that it does not always do what we want it to, sometimes we are let down by the movies. But, as everyone reading this knows, there are those other times, times in which we find ourselves mesmerized by a certain character, shot, or mood within a film, times that we are happy to call ourselves proud “cinephiles”.
A Story of Children and Film explores what it means to be young. And, by using cinema, shows us how sometimes the most complex, creative and adventurous among us, are the small people we might so easily doubt, kids. Every fan of film should see A Story of Children and Film, not only will you learn a great deal, but you may come out with a new perspective of how cinema can be used to portray and affect even the most unlikely of lives.
(A Story of Children and Film is, at time of writing, in limited released across the UK, and can be rented on the BFI Player. The film is also available on demand on Amazon Instant Video in the UK and Ireland)
Find out more about the film here http://dogwoof.com/childrenandfilm
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