Epic doc The Story of Film delivers a dazzling crash course in the history of movies 

Reeling in the Years

Reeling in the Years

Expanding its ideas, themes and connections across 15 hourlong episodes, Mark Cousins' engrossing The Story of Film — screening in two-hour blocks over the next four weekends at The Belcourt — isn't your ordinary rah-rah cinema documentary series. True, Cousins, an Irish critic, journalist and filmmaker, does present a fairly thorough grounding in film history, starting off with the precursors of the medium and detailing the many technical and narrative innovations that helped turn it into a complex art form. (No, the first close-up was not shot by D.W. Griffith; Cousins knows his history too well to just give us myths and legends.)

Covering cinema's development from the 19th century to the 21st, he includes interviews with many significant figures (Stanley Donen, for example) as well as film historians who are there to tell us what's what. Unlike so many stuffy kino-docs, however, The Story of Film is itself masterful, dexterous filmmaking — leaping across decades, for example, from the first time a film character turned his back to the audience to the opening scene of Godard's Vivre sa Vie, in which Anna Karina speaks entirely with the back of her head turned away.

But what's most refreshing — almost revolutionary — about Cousins' achievement is how polemical it is. The writer-director makes a case for the importance of filmmaking in lesser-known industries — including a poetic reverie on the significance of Dakar, the Senegalese capital city, in the 1970s ­— while also reclaiming the careers of long-forgotten pioneers. A few startling glimpses of Lois Weber's 1913 film Suspense will make you want to seek it out immediately; that Cousins accompanies it with a description of the prevalence of women writers and directors in the early years of Hollywood just adds both poignancy and urgency.

Be sure to take notes, because the surprises and wonders keep coming. The Story of Film is an amazing series: It not only presents cinema history, it is cinema history.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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