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Orgiastic Odyssey: Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film

Orgiastic Odyssey: Mark Cousins' The Story of Film

On the last days of the Toronto Film Festival, Meredith Brody settles into a fifteen-hour orgy of film history.

If I wasn’t already a rabid cinephile, exposure to Mark Cousins’ orgiastic The Story of Film: An Odyssey would turn me into one. I’d been looking forward to seeing the two-day screenings, eight hours on Saturday and seven on Sunday, since I caught a scant hour of it in Telluride, shown on an ordinary flat screen in a back room of an art gallery. But, over two days immersed in its entirety, I’m overwhelmed by its richness, depth, and philosophy. Cousins’ pleasing Irish brogue seduces as he narrates the entire 15 hours, a personal take on film history that will dazzle the neophyte but also holds surprises for the most devoted film geek. I already know I have a weakness for clip shows, but this is no mere clip show: it’s wittily written and the new footage shot all over the world (hence the “odyssey”) is meditative and cinematic in its own right.

I immediately want to watch it over again, in smaller gulps, hopefully interspersed with re-visiting some of the hundreds if not thousands of the movies it alludes to. I feel like I’ve saved the best for last: The Story of Film: An Odyssey, not only reminds me of why I fell in love with film in the first place, it also reminds me of why I make the annual trek to Toronto – its last two or three hours are a virtual compendium of auteurs, trends, and national cinemas that I first was exposed to here at what was called in the old days the Festival of Festivals. 

Nowadays Toronto has seemingly abandoned the retrospective aspect of the cinema – no longer programming expensive-to-mount silent films with musical accompaniment, or asking directors to choose a favorite film from the past and appear with it. I’m sure they feel that the year-round programming in the Lightbox has this covered, but I miss it in the mix. The Story of Film fulfills this in spades: not just nostalgic, but forward-looking in its concerns.

If I choose to, I can sample The Story of Film again in a specially-selected 90-minute excerpt covering the films of the 70s at the Mill Valley Film Festival, another eleven-day orgy, running from October 6th to 16th, that doesn’t quite cover the waterfront as Toronto does, but offers a nice mix of Oscar bait, independent film, documentaries, and kids’ movies in its 150-film mix.

A number of its highlights have been on the festival circuit since Cannes, including its closing night film, The Artist, still my go-to response during both Telluride and Toronto when asked what my favorite film is. (It’s amazing how quickly a film seems as essential as a magazine you read last month once you’ve seen it, no matter how much it was anticipated. But The Artist is the rare movie that I’m already looking forward to seeing again. And even owning.)

But, even as I look forward to catching Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, The Conquest, a satire about Nicholas Sarkozy, Eames: The Achitect and The Painter, and the Duplass brothers’ Jeff Who Lives at Home, among others, the Mill Valley fest is in my backyard (well,a backyard that involves a 22-mile drive across a bridge).

I’m inevitably much more excited about my first-ever visit to the Morelia International Film Festival, running from October 15th to the 23rd in the state of Michoacán in Mexico, which will be a chance to immerse oneself in contemporary Mexican cinema, including short films and documentaries as well as features, in addition to sampling international cinema and retrospective screenings. Both Quentin Tarantio and Tom Luddy have been quoted as saying it’s their favorite film festival, so I’m more than eager to check it out.

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