Monday, June 10, 2013
The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)
With so many different documentaries that have been made about the history of film, it's hard to imagine anything being fresh or having new perspective. I was hard pressed to find such a program, but while looking through Netflix, I found just that. The Story of Film: An Odyssey takes a very different approach, one that injects some wonder back into the idea of a documentary on film history.
Most documentaries take a brisk walk through the story of film, highlighting some of the obvious, important films that one may be more acquainted with. Yet, The Story of Film uses in it's opening, the beach scene from Saving Private Ryan (1998) to help demonstrate that this series of documentaries will have more of a thesis on the history of film. Instead of just outlining history, it delves into it and cross references it, comparing examples from every era at once. Not only is this the story of Hollywood, but the story of film in Europe, eastern Europe, Bollywood, Japan, even Africa, which often goes unmentioned in film histories. It even mentions animation and the change Disney underwent at the advent of Xeroxing cels. All of this gives a much broader perspective to the ideas that are being put forth. Assisting the many films used as reference is live action inserts shot for the documentary in many places around the world as well as interviews with many important filmmakers.
This series could have had some kind of pompous narrator and that is indeed what I was expecting to hear, but instead I was somewhat shocked to hear a soft, Irish accented voice talking a most informal, colloquial manner. The narrator is Mark Cousins, who had written a book on which the series was based. In some ways his narration is awkward, but only at first, and if you're expecting the traditional. Yet this is anything but a traditional documentary. If anything it feels like a college lecture series and that can be a good or bad thing, depending on your tastes. Also beware, this documentary has an opinion, so it certainly may feel like a college lecture at times.
Personally, I think this is a wonderful documentary. It exposes one to many many different films you may never have heard about or reexamines ones you were thoroughly familiar with in ways that make you see them in a different light. It's definitely the best to come out since Hollywood A Celebration of the American Silent Film. (Speaking of which, this documentary uses some footage and interviews from that series) Go check it out!