'The Story of Film: A New Generation' and the movies making history

16 Dec 2021 BY Michael Prescott in Film Features

4 mins
The Story of Film: A New Generation
The Story of Film: A New Generation

Ten years on from his 15-part series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, filmmaker and writer Mark Cousins returns with his follow-up The Story of Film: A New Generation, a documentary film essay which examines the films and changes which have come in the last decade of cinemagoing.

Which movies have captured our time? Did 'Joker' unsettle you? Did 'The Babadook' scare you? Did you feel the desire in 'Moonlight'?

Mark Cousins, 'The Story of Film: A New Generation' trailer

Cousins, a Northern Irish-Scottish filmmaker, released The Story of Film: An Odyssey - based on his acclaimed 2004 book 'The Story of Film' - in 2011, which played in both film festivals and on television. The series looked at a different part of cinema history in each installment, beginning with ‘Birth of the Cinema' which covered 1895-1918 in its first episode through to ‘Cinema Today and the Future' which explored the early 2000s. Other chapters included 'The Arrival of Sound' (1930s), 'Post-War Cinema' (1940s) and 'American Cinema of the 70s.' This follow-up film acts as an appendix and looks at what has come since.

Those familiar with the work of Mark Cousins - including A Story of Children and Film from 2013, which explores depictions of childhood on screen - will recognise his trademark style in this latest work. Providing deliberate, lyrical voiceover within a video essay format, his works draw on lots of examples from the past and present of film history, referencing titles from all around the world, some of which are mainstream and others obscure even to cine-literate viewers. In this way, his works are always accessible yet challenging and thus provide the ideal setting for young fans and students of film who are eager to learn more about the craft, its history, and the many titles waiting to be discovered.

In A Story of Film: A New Generation, Cousins divides the narrative in half. Part One is titled 'Extending the Language of Film' and focuses on those new titles which have pushed conventions and showed us new ways of doing things. Films across a number of genres are showcased, from action to music, romance to horror, comedy to documentary; titles include the likes of MoonlightI Am Not a WitchMad Max: Fury RoadGravity, and Baby Driver. In Mad Max: Fury Road, for example, Cousins focuses on how physical stunts were prioritised over CGI filmmaking where possible to give the action scenes a sense of danger and authenticity.

Most filming follows tried and trusted methods... nothing wrong with that. Many of our favourite films followed the conventions. But our story here is about the movies around the world that pushed the conventions.

Mark Cousins, 'The Story of Film: A New Generation'

Part Two - 'What Have We Been Digging For?' - looks into the films which have broken and re-written the rules; some of the most exciting recent titles from auteurs around the world are put under the microscope, such as Sebastián Lelio's A Fantastic Woman (Chile), Bong Joon Ho's Parasite (South Korea), and Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters (Japan). US indies Tangerine and The Farewell are also included, amongst many more obscure titles, but so too is blockbuster War for the Planet of the Apes. The third in the trilogy is highlighted for its extraordinary advancement in motion capture technology, something which has become almost synonymous with the performances of Andy Serkis.

Other titles referenced include a number of films which are currently available to stream on Into Film+, all of which can be enjoyed by older audiences: Song of the SeaSpider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseBooksmart, and Black Panther. Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon released Song of the Sea as the second part of their folk tale trilogy - sandwiched in between the equally enchanting The Secret of Kells (also available on Into Film+) and Wolfwalkers - and is a gentle, lyrical piece of hand-drawn animation. Another animated film, equally popular albeit very different in style and tone, is the energetic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse whose visuals delight through their bold colours and vibrant tones.

Booksmart, a coming-of-age comedy between two female best friends and the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, is a whip-smart high-school film which understands and embraces modern teenage culture. Its contemporary depiction of sexuality through various characters, for instance, is a particularly strong element. Cousins compares the chemistry between its leads, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, to that of both the Marx brothers and the female friends in Grease. Though he also clarifies: "Grease was nostalgic. Booksmart is effortlessly modern." Marvel's enormously popular Black Panther is another recent title which is explored, specifically the subversive streak within its portrayal of African culture and technology.

Pre- and post-modern worlds in harmony... a euphoric challenge to how outsiders usually see Africa as third world, underdeveloped... instead of the victim narrative of Africa, here's a founding myth... a paradise lost.

Mark Cousins on 'Black Panther'

There's something in this film for everyone. It all-at-once acts as an introduction and a comprehensive review into cinema of all types, not just within the last decade but how these moving images link together over time with their historical counterparts. Exploring motifs within these recent titles, the evolution of film language, and emerging technology, Cousins ponders what cinema says about society in the digital age. The central question this documentary poses is: which films are making history today?

The Story of Film: A New Generation is released into cinemas and available on demand from Friday 17 December.

Michael Prescott

Michael Prescott, Curation Coordinator

Michael has an MA in Film Studies with Screenwriting from Sheffield Hallam University. He has previously worked at the British Council and on the BFI Film Academy, and has volunteered at organisations including Sheffield Doc/Fest and Cinema for All.

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