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► The Story of Film: A New Generation is in UK cinemas from December 17 and is available to stream on Apple TV and Dogwoof on Demand now. 

“What follows will be borderless,” Mark Cousins tells us early on in his latest compelling expedition into the world of cinema. He’s not joking. Ten years ago, his 15-part, 930-minute The Story of Film: An Odyssey offered a stimulatingly eclectic, idiosyncratic overview of a century-plus of movie-making, informed by his tireless curiosity and passionate cinephilia.

Now, modestly limiting himself to a mere 160 minutes and concentrating largely (but not exclusively) on the last decade, Cousins swerves stimulatingly from movies most of us will know – Disney’s Frozen (2013), Todd Phillips’s Joker (2019) – to some that perhaps few of us will even have heard of: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s irresistibly action-and-dance-packed Gujarat-set adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Ram-Leela (2013), to look no further.

Cousins divides his visual extravaganza (‘documentary’ seems too prosaic a term) in two. Part I covers ‘Extending the language of film’, offering “movies that pushed the conventions…”, Cousins tells us in his warm Ulster accent, “that renewed the medium of film”. Part II, ‘What have we been digging for?’, features film-makers “taking a dive, going underneath”, in search of unexplored or sparsely exposed territory. Both parts, in asking “who we are, how recent cinema has looked inside us”, incorporate a dazzling array of clips, often skidding seamlessly from one to the next via leftward zip-pans of the kind favoured by Kurosawa.

In his enthusiasm Cousins doesn’t shy away from superlatives. George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is, he tells us, “the best action film of our time”; Leos Carax’s typically bizarre Holy Motors (2012) ranks as “one of the most visual threshold-crossings in modern cinema”; Aleksei German’s final film, Hard to Be a God (2013), “pushed film as far as it could go”.

He extols technical achievements: Miller’s film, he notes, involved 2,700 shots, averaging three seconds each; by contrast, in David Robert Mitchell’s insidiously spooky horror film It Follows (2014) our attention is drawn to a slow, unbroken 720-degree pan in which the camera seems to identify itself with the inexorably following figure. And while the focus falls chiefly on the cinema of the last decade, classic movies occasionally figure by way of comparison: Welles’s Chimes at Midnight (1965), Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un poète (1932), Germaine Dulac’s La Coquille et le Clergyman (1928).

At times the sheer multitude of clips – over 110, many lasting barely 20 seconds – becomes frustrating. “Hey, hold on!” we feel like saying, “I’d like to see some more of that!” Which is, one suspects, exactly what Mark Cousins wants.

Watching Women Make Film – How to tackle Mark Cousins’ 14-hour road movie

A 14-hour film school with the world’s great female directors just landed. How to make the most of this masterclass in the art and craft of cinema?

By Nikki Baughan

Watching Women Make Film – How to tackle Mark Cousins’ 14-hour road movie