The Story of Film is fascinating, inadvertently hilarious

Tuesday April 24th 2012

I finally got around to watching Mark Cousins’s much-fêted fifteen-hour megadocumentary The Story of Film at the weekend (well, the first three hours of it anyway) and I’m happy to confirm that’s it’s almost as good as you’ve heard. Constructed with unimaginable care over the best part of a decade, it’s one of the most staggeringly comprehensive cinematic histories ever told, featuring hundreds of well-chosen clips from over a century’s worth of films — and only one or two really jarring bits that Cousins shot himself:

All of which goes to prove that Mark Cousins is an extraordinarily talented individual, with an unbelievably extensive knowledge of world cinema. But for all his accomplishments, ambitions and accolades, there’s still one thing he has yet to overcome. I am of course talking about that voice.

I’ve never understood precisely why Cousins feels the need to insert himself so prominently into his work, when all it tends to do is shift attention away from his subject and onto his singularly bizarre vocal patterns. Ever since he first made a name for himself on cult 90s movie shows Moviedrome and Scene by Scene, that name has been synonymous with unlikely intonations and unexpected tonal shifts. Take a look at this Moviedrome review of Don’t Look Now — it’s telling that even the rad 90s camerawork is less grating than Cousins’s voice:

I had an argument with a friend the other day over whether or not Cousins himself realises just how infamous his vocal stylings have become. I said he must know, given that his lilting drawl has practically entered the pop cultural lexicon as an independent entity. My friend argued that a filmmaker and broadcaster as well respected as Cousins would have long ago overcome such a stigma, and was probably seldom confronted by it any more. I countered with some empirical evidence recorded during my weekend viewing of The Story of Film:

Seriously, compare this graph with almost any line from his narration. It’s about 97% accurate.

Of course, my petty complaints about Cousins’s speaking voice by no means diminish the film’s myriad achievements. It’s a remarkable piece of work that’s well worth your time and money if you’ve got any interest whatsoever in the history of film — even if the thought of fifteen hours in the company of Mark Cousins’s voice is a daunting prospect. If all else fails, there’s not much he can do to stop you putting it on mute and turning the subtitles on.

That sly bastard.