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Want to Learn Film in 40 Days Under Quarantine? Mark Cousins Has the Virtual Course for You

More an extended visual essay-style lecture, the film historian's "40 Days to Learn Film" surveys visual style and content.

Mark Cousins

David Lynch with Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins/screenshot

There are worse things than being a cinephile who’s stuck in quarantine. Finally, there’s time to catch-up on those obscure Criterion Channel classics you’ve put off for years — Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s nearly-16-hour “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” anyone? — or revisit some of your old comfort favorites. But for other cinephiles also getting an education, quarantine means that physical film schools are shuttered, as are theaters, leaving students of cinema and moviegoers challenged without that vital element of watching a movie in a dark room alongside other people.

Film historian and filmmaker Mark Cousins, whom you may known as the man behind the must-see 2011 documentary film survey “The Story of Film: An Odyssey,” has a temporary reprieve for deprived scholars of film. He’s put together “40 Days to Learn Film,” a massive undertaking at even just under two and a half hours. More a visual-essay style, poetic lecture than a typical film course, “40 Days to Learn Film” has been made available free on Vimeo and embedded below.

The visual essay dives deep into the style and content of film, with short segments divided up covering everything from color, eyeline, focus, depth, and tension, to wedding films, endings, something called “lesbos refugee camp,” “avoid banalities,” “show what hasn’t been shown before,” and even a few days off sprinkled in between. The various chapters are divided up with individual hyperlinks on the Vimeo page, meaning you can skip around if you wish. According to Cousins, “40 Days to Learn Film” is also improvised, which is hugely a testament to his bottomless knowledge of movies, already fully on display in “The Story of Film,” which is currently streaming in all of its 15 hours of glory on Hulu. And also, the Irish-born film maven also serves up some serious ASMR action through his soothing, almost whispered intonation.

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In the opening of Cousins’ virtual film school he talks about David Lynch’s approach to storytelling — how ideas are like fish and we’re just trying to catch them — before eventually segueing into a close reading of a pivotal moment of facial expression from films such as “Vertigo” and “Tokyo Story,” among others. According to Cousins, probably the best advice he’s ever heard about filmmaking comes from Robert Bresson: “Try to show that which, without you, might never have been seen.”

Check out “40 Days to Learn Film” below.

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