Many film lovers – myself included – have spent the last two years or so soaking up Mark Cousins’ THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY. The deep look into the history of the art form and how it has evolved worldwide over its century-plus history is truly fascinating. It got a feature spot at TIFF two years ago, and has made the rounds to many arthouse theatres in the time since.
Currently, it is airing on Monday and Tuesday Nights on Turner Classic Movies, along with many of the films discussed in its chapters.
I bring this up to set the stage. After an episode or two, a viewer of STORY gets an acute understanding of what they are in for. Cousins’ narration suggestions a Cousteau-esque expedition into the depths of cinema lore. His focus is both on the moment up for discussion, and its influence on future events. So one could be forgiven if they thought that A STORY OF CHILDREN AND FILM was Cousins’ annexe to the project: A “Sixteenth Chapter” perhaps.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Cousins became inspired after capturing a short clip of his niece and nephew playing in his flat one day after breakfast. The footage isn’t anything extraordinary; moreover, if you have children yourself, you probably have many videos like it on your various digital devices. From the simple moment though, a beautiful idea was sparked…this story of children and film.
This is not the story of children and film; but rather a story of children and film.
Cousins isn’t interested in taking us through the medium’s history again decade by decade, connecting the dots from Jackie Coogan to Quvenzhane Wallis. What he is interested in is the various facets of children’s behaviour. He focuses for instance on their shyness, their independence, their doggedness, and their isolation, and finds some amazing moments in the history of film to underline his point. These scenes are more than just wonderful pieces of filmmaking, they are portraits of who children are…not how they have been told to act.
What Cousins discovers is that the mindset of a child has no regard for borders (though it can be reminded of class). He sees that there is a commonality to both his niece and nephew playing with their toys, and these amazing clips he has sourced from around the world. What’s more, he outlines the wonderful symbiosis between children and film, pointing out that so much of what film is used for around the world is to capture the lives of children.
The documentary is a joy. It’s filled with wonderful observations and punctuated by some of the best pieces of kids on film you’re likely to see. It is not the sixteenth chapter…it’s a story all its own.