A follow-up to his 15-hour-long 2011 TV miniseries, “The Story of Film: An Odyssey,” an offshoot of his 2004 book “The Story of Film,” “The Story of Film: A New Generation” introduces viewers to a new wave of auteur filmmakers, or at least those who award-winning writer-director-narrator Mark Cousins dubs auteurs.
At the start of the film’s two hour, 40 minute running time, Cousins, in his droning professorial tone, tells of the connection between the famous scene of the Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) dancing wildly on the steps of that outdoor Bronx staircase and the performance of “Let It Go” from Disney’s beloved musical “Frozen.” For me, it was not a great start, a bit too facile and a harbinger of things to come.
Of course, Cousins evokes Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the magical realist conjurer of such mysteries as “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (2010), “Memoria” (2021) and Cousins’ favorite “Cemetery of Splendor” (2015), a prophetic effort involving a plague of sleeping sickness. Part 1 of Cousins’ film explores films that have extended the “language of cinema,” showing us “things we haven’t seen before,” and while I’ll allow Cousins’ inclusion of Jordan Peele’s “Us” and the shattering documentary “Leviathan” (2012) in that category, I’ll have to say a big, loud no to the wildly overrated and deeply flawed “Hustlers” (2019).
While Cousins makes an astute connection between a scene in “Booksmart” (2019) and one in the 1970s classic “Grease,” he leaves other obvious connections between films unremarked. Cousins does, however, include the work of Ugandan filmmaker Nabwana I.G.G. (“Crazy World”), Indian director Anurag Kashyap (“Gangs of Wasseypur”) and award-winning Argentinian artist Lucrecia Martel (“Zama”). While we share his regard for “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Buster Keaton’s masterpiece “The General” (1926), we may not be so certain of his fondness for the Safdie brothers’ “Good Time” (2017).
While analyzing the opening dance-like, single take of Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” (2017), Cousins fails to make the obvious connection to the (better) opening of “Saturday Night Fever” (1977). Irishman Cousins, who was born in Belfast, has inflections and emphases that are remarkably similar to Scotsman Alan Cumming. They could be cousins (OK, I could not help myself).
“The Story of Film: A New Generation” references some of the same films as Jean-Luc Godard’s 1998 eight-part magnum opus “Histoire(s) du cinema.” These include Carl Theodor Dryer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928) with its iconic performance by Renee Jeanne Falconetti, Disney’s landmark “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s subversive “Teorema” (1968). Godard would probably not have included Beyonce’s “Lemonade” (2016). But you never know.
Cousins has just regard for the musicals of India’s Bollywood with their intricate choreography. He also reveres Barry Jenkins’ Academy Award-winning “Moonlight” (2016), Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s “Three Times,” Claire Denis’ uneven “High Life” (2018) and Rungano Nyoni’s acclaimed Zambian entry “I Am Not a Witch” (2017). “The Story of Film: A New Generation” is commendable for its far reach and inclusivity.
Thankfully, Cousins can also find the grandeur in a mainstream film such as Alfonso Cuaron’s 2013 Academy Award-sweeping “Gravity.” Bless him. He is also a fan of such New Age horror entries as “Suspiria” (2018), “It Follows” (2014) and Australian Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook” (2014). While “The Story of Film: A New Generation” can be unwieldy (and contentious), it is also the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” of films about film. You want to follow it, wherever it goes.
‘THE STORY OF FILM: A NEW GENERATION’
No MPAA rating (contains nudity, profanity and mature themes)
Running time: 2:40
How to watch: In theaters