Ten years after Mark Cousins created The Story of Film: An Odyssey, his compelling 15-hour history of cinema, the filmmaker has graced us with a sequel, The Story of Film: A New Generation. At 2hrs and 40 minutes, it is a sweeping topography of 21st century cinema, referencing some 97 films from Britain and America to Senegal and India. An absorbing, informative and even therapeutic experience, I have to concur with our critic Jo-Ann Titmarsh when she says it is,“a true celebration of what cinema is and what it means to us”.
Ever the busy and nomadic filmmaker, Mark was kind enough to speak with me about his new film, his cinema-going habits, the defining films of the 2010s, and the future of the theatrical experience.
MC: I try to go to the cinema every day if I can. It’s like listening to music – it’s best if you do it every day. I’m a full time filmmaker and I travel a lot, so there are days when I don’t sit in front of a massive cinema screen, but those days diminish me. I am only Mark on those days, not super-Mark. I like being super-Mark.
JH: The 1970s had New Hollywood and the 1990s had the indie movement. What movements, technologies and aesthetics will be associated with the 2010s?
MC: Yes, there have been lots of trends in film history. The two you mention plus loads more. The 2010s have been a bit like the 1950s, when epic widescreen cinema was to the fore. Movies are again in maximal mode. Superheroes are all the rage, they are a kind of everything at the moment, and we can see innovative filmmakers trying to play with that everything, trying to innovate with it visually (Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse), queer it (Deadpool) etc. There’s energy in that innovation, and I see those films. But every trend has a counter trend, and the counter trend of the 2010s has been quieter films about identity: Border, Atlantique, Moonlight, A Fantastic Woman, Ship of Theseus, Tomboy, Evolution, Parasite, etc.
JH: Of the many films that you discuss in New Generation, which ones best represent this era?
MC: Black Panther, A Fantastic Woman, Under the Skin, Cemetery of Splendour, Parasite, PK, Happy as Lazzaro, It Follows.
JH: With the emergence of streaming services, audiences now control the ‘content’ rather than the ‘content’ controlling them. What do you think this abundance of choice means for the cinematic experience? Are audiences indifferent to the big screen – will cinemas become a niche interest?
MC: The key word in your question is control, not content, I feel. Singin’ in the Rain was content, Judy Garland was content, Dr. No was content. Our choice now is whether (if we are able) to go to the cinema, to be out of control in front of a sublime experience, or to stay home and be in control (with our TV handset) in a domestic experience. Both are enjoyable, and there’s a lot to say for the latter. But when you have one hand on our phone and another on your TV zapper, you’re not fully alive. You are queen or king of your evening. Let’s be honest, that is fun for a while, but it’s eventually a bit dull, repetitive and even banal. Our homes are not the world.
JH :You mention that the 21st century has seen many great documentaries. Is this because of the greater availability of equipment, or is there something else at play here? Is it a reflection of global connectivity and the information age?
MC: Yes, equipment is key. Documentary directors have mostly been the impoverished filmmakers, outside the industry, the citadel. Before they told their story, they had to get their hands on cameras, which were mostly inside the citadel. Now the cameras are everywhere, in every pocket. This scares and excites the industry because it can’t control it. In the past, great filmmakers like Robert Flaherty got the crumbs from the table. Now the table has changed and the crumbs have changed, and we’re more aware of condescension!
Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: A New Generation is in cinemas and on demand from 17 December. Tickets & Info: https://www.the-story-of-film.com