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Mark Cousins' epic 15-part series could very well be the best documentary of the year....
Music Box Films / 915 Minutes / 2012 / Unrated / Street Date: December 11, 2012
2012 was the year I finally got around to watching Jean-Luc Godard's Historie(s) du cinema, the filmmaker's 8-part video project chronicling the evolution of film in the 20th century (Sight & Sound included it on its 2012 list of the best movies ever made, so I figured it was time). Not only did I loathe Godard's seemingly endless tirade, I grew to resent it, feeling that Godard's lofty, holier-than-thou diatribes were purposely aimed at demeaning his audience. Many critics still stand by the movie, but this guy gives it a thumbs-down (honestly, I dare you to make it through even just an hour of it).
Luckily, just a few short months after stepping in Godard's cine-quicksand, the DVD edition of The Story of Film: An Odyssey came to the DVDFile office, and over the course of its breathtaking fifteen hours, it does what Historie(s) never could: it makes the art form it investigates come to life. From Edison's early tests through the digital revolution currently underway, The Story of Film is a simple, endearing overview of how the medium came to life, grew to power, and eventually took over the modern world. And by throwing a truly global spin on things, The Story of Film opens up and tells the histories of national cinemas that many viewers might not have thorough familiarity with.
I don't know that The Story of Film is a classic piece of cinematic storytelling - its creator, Mark Cousins, is no auteur - but I don't know that the movie necessarily needs to be a masterpiece in its own regard. As an introduction to the world of the flickering image, the mere fact that Cousins ushers us through the halls of Scandinavian silent cinema, the Iranian new wave, and a thousand other movements within moviemaking's illustrious history is of intense, exciting value. To have a panoramic entity like this one - a multi-part film that pays just as much attention to Victor Erice and Peter Greenaway as it does to Casablanca and the Hollywood studio golden age - is nothing short of a cinematic miracle.
I'd take this one over Historie(s) du cinema any day of the week - I'll tell you that much.