Aug. 22, 2012 - Issue #879: Is The Party Over?
The Story of Film (Episode 15)The person writing this piece is one bummed cinephile. Because the occasion for this piece is the final installment of Mark Cousins' 15-part series The Story of Film, which Metro Cinema has been screening since the beginning of July. I started our weekly missives on the series by making fun of Cousins' voice-over narration and his exceedingly Irish cadences; now I'd be happy to have him sit behind me and whisper comments all the way through The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). It's hard to get through all 15-plus hours of The Story of Film and not feel like you've made a new friend.
But friends are there as much to debate with as to reach agreements. As The Story of Film gets closer to the present, as it views the history of cinematic innovation through an increasingly shorter telescope and less hindsight, Cousins' claims about which films and filmmakers are most important lend themselves to greater contention. Episode 15 deals exclusively with the 2000s—the decade in which I began my practice as a critic—and so I find myself thinking, Requiem For a Dream (2000)? Really? The Rules of Attraction (2002)? Seriously? Those titles belong in the mercilessly selective annals of The Story of Film? But it's less easy to dismiss Cousins' rationales for these titles. Roger Avary may not seem like cinema's most visionary artist, but then neither does James Cameron, whose films seem so pedestrian once you remove their high concepts and technological achievements. Yet both Rules of Attraction and Avatar (2010) have made significant contributions to the development of film language. The same goes for Michael Moore, a guy I tend not to think of as much of a filmmaker per se, yet the audacity and outrage behind Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), winner of the Palme d'Or and the highest-grossing documentary of all time, possess a cultural impact all their own.
The thematic focus of episode 15 is "the clash of reality and dream," and more than once Cousins leaps back in history to remind us of the roots of this clash, not by citing, say, Un chien andalou (1929), but by examining the bold insertion of glorious nonsense into Laurel and Hardy films. The peak example of this clash in cinema's second century is in a movie that's partly about cinema itself: David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001). But Cousins also examines the intrusion of dreams on the real and of the real on our dreams in the films of Sweden's Roy Andersson, Argentina's Lucrecia Martel, France's Michel Gondry, Mexico's Carlos Reygadas and Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who made Songs From the Second Floor (2000), The Headless Woman (2008), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Battle in Heaven (2005) and Tropical Malady (2004) respectively—though I was hoping Cousins would talk about Apichatpong's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), just to bring us full circle from Laurel and Hardy's incongruous gorilla to Uncle Boonmee's unforgettable monkey ghost.
The Story of Films closes with an homage to Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov—whose Mother and Son (1997) ushered new heights of impressionism into narrative film, and whose one-shot Russian Ark (2002) gave cinema its longest suspended breath—and with a smartly chosen clip from Inception (2010), a film that prompts us to think of both the movies and reality in the 21st century as vessels of dreaming. And prompts us to ask, Which dream are we in now?
Sun, Aug 26 – Wed, Aug 29
Directed by Mark Cousins
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
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