THE STORY OF FILM: A NEW GENERATION -- Mark Cousins's Introspective Look At 21st Century Filmmaking
Review by Tatiana Miranda
After The Story of Film: An Odyssey's release over a decade ago comes director Mark Cousins's sequel, The Story of Film: A New Generation. Nearly three hours long, The Story of Film: A New Generation is a documentary analyzing a variety of films from the 21st century.
Whereas The Story of Film: An Odyssey depicts the early years of film and the basics of the medium, in A New Generation, Cousins looks at films from this century that are expanding the boundaries of filmmaking. The documentary is narrated by Cousins and interspersed with clips of movies ranging in various genres, such as horror and comedy. With a critical eye, Cousins makes comparisons of films one might have never expected and opens the audience to analyze the media they consume more critically.
The Story of Film: A New Generation opens with a comparison of two movies that could not be any more different: Disney's Frozen and Todd Phillips's Joker. Cousins takes note of the similarities in dance sequences between the two, commenting on how the lines from Frozen's song "Let It Go" could apply to Joker's Arthur Fleck as he dances down steps during a pivotal point in the film.
While Cousins is clearly analyzing the similarity in structures here, underlying are also the cultural elements that made these films so notable. This is perhaps the most significant defining factor of the movies Cousins mentions in this documentary, as most have had some sort of societal impact outside the filmmaking sphere.
An underlying theme of Cousins's analysis comes from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic in cinema and society. Even within movies that came out before the pandemic, during rewatches, one can find a new interpretation based on the global experience of lockdowns and mask mandates. The scarves used as masks in Portrait of a Lady on Fire hold new meaning in a post-pandemic world, whereas the closeness of the 2020 film Small Axe: Lovers Rock causes the audience to mourn the lost days of large house parties filled with dancing.
Beyond the structural and plot-based advances in filmmaking, The Story of Film: A New Generation harps on the technological advances from the past twenty years. In particular, Cousins points out the CGI and practical effects used in movies such as The Irishman and War for the Planet of the Apes. As he notes, these advances have changed the future of filmmaking; whether for better or for worse is up to the viewer.
In The Story of Film: A New Generation, Cousins approaches this century's films with reverence and a scholarly outlook. Ultimately though, he is just presenting the movies, critically choosing scenes of note and allowing the audience to make their own conclusions on what they mean for the future of cinema.
The Story of Film: A New Generation releases in theaters on September 9.
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