100 Films in a Year’s 2,000th film is…

Basic maths tells us that watching 100 films in a year should mean it takes 20 years — two whole decades — to reach 2,000 films. But nowadays I watch plenty more than 100 films each year, and so after 13 years, 5 months, and 6 days of my eponymous challenge, I have viewed my 2,000th film.

And it is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Normally this is the kind of thing I’d announce in my next monthly review, but as I made a song and dance about #1000, I thought #2000 deserved the same. It also allows room for some reminders and explanations.

Firstly, how come I’ve only just reached my 2,000th film when my reviews archive lists 2,178 feature films? Well, this is my 2,000th “film that I’ve never seen before”, as outlined on my “about” page. In the past 13-and-almost-a-half years I’ve also reviewed sundry films that I’d seen before, not to mention alternate cuts that aren’t different enough to count as ‘new’, hence why I’ve amassed 178 more reviews than new films I’ve seen.

Secondly, I’d like to point out that which film got the honour of being my 2,000th wasn’t just dumb luck. When I realised I was approaching this milestone, I set out to choose a title of enough significance to stand alongside the film I’d chosen for #1000 (Mark Cousins’s 15-hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey), as well as some of the classics I’ve watched for my yearly #100s in the past — films like Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, City of God, and Stalker. How E.T. squares up to those is hopefully self-explanatory.

As I said, this is my 2,000th “film I’ve never seen before” — considering my age and film-viewing experience, it seems unlikely that I’ve never seen E.T., doesn’t it? Indeed, for years I struggled to decide whether I’d seen it when I was a kid or not. I certainly spent the first few years of the ’90s using TV screenings and the local video rental shop to consume a steady diet of family-friendly adventure/sci-fi/fantasy mainstream films from the preceding decade or so. I know I saw the Star Wars and Indiana Jones and Back to the Future trilogies. I remember watching both Ghostbusters, and Flash Gordon and Clash of the Titans and The NeverEnding Story and Dune and The Princess Bride and Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Hook… I also saw more grown-up-minded sci-fi like Close Encounters and 2001. I even remember watching stuff like Return to Oz and Harry and the Hendersons. Sure, there were beloved films I know I missed — films like The Dark Crystal and Gremlins and The Goonies and Labyrinth and Willow — but they’re not on the scale of E.T. I mean, none of those overtook Star Wars to be the highest-grossing film of all time!

Searching my memory, there are only two things I really remember about E.T.: (1) the “E.T. phone home” catchphrase (but everyone knows that, thanks to ubiquitous references in other media); and (2) the ride at Universal Studios. I don’t recall any moments from the film itself. If I did see it, the impression it left on me was exceptionally small, which seems implausible. So I’m forced to concede that, as unlikely as it may seem, I never saw E.T.

Having come to that conclusion a while ago, it seemed right to hold it in reserve for a special occasion — and what better time to finally watch such a noteworthy film than as my 2,000th?

E.T. will be reviewed in due course.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)

2015 #112
100 Films in a Year #1000
Mark Cousins | 915 mins | DVD | 1.78:1 | UK / English | 15

The Story of Film: An OdysseyWritten, directed, and narrated by film journalist/historian/fan Mark Cousins, The Story of Film: An Odyssey is an epic 15-hour account of innovation throughout the history of moviemaking, which began its premiere broadcast five years ago today. It’s an acclaimed work, to be sure, but one that also attracts its fair share of controversy — about films and filmmakers that Cousins chose to leave out, in some cases about those he chose to include, and about how the documentary itself was made: the oddly framed interviews, the artistic shots of baubles, Cousins’ accent and vocal inflections. (Also, in the context of counting it as part of 100 Films, you may think it’s a TV series. Well, I went over that here.)

In the booklet that accompanies the series’ film’s UK DVD release, Cousins explains how and why the project came about:

There have been histories of the movie genres before, star histories, continental histories, histories of popular cinema, Godard’s essayistic history, etc. But no-one had tried to do a history of innovation in the movies. […] I was angry, too, that movie history is often so parochial, so provincial. We remember Garbo but not the great Chinese actress Ruan Lingyu, we worship Pixar but not the great Iranian kids’ films of Mohammed Ali-Talebi. This is blatantly unfair. The playing field is not level. The bullies with massive marketing budgets force their movies on us, whether they’re good or not, thus restricting our choice.

Part of the point of The Story of Film, then, is to widen Western audiences’ understanding of film and its history — a position also not without controversy, but I’ll come back to that.

The original concept was to tell this story over a handful of 90-minute episodes — “three chunky Saturday nights on BBC2 or C4”, as producer John Archer describes it in the DVD’s booklet. Unfortunately, the BBC declared the project was “too big”, which is ironic considering how it ended up. As Cousins describes in this making-of article, to help pitch the series they set out to produce a 10-minute test. When that clocked in at 50 minutes, they realised the final piece would have to be considerably longer than expected. By the time More4 got involved to buy the UK TV rights, the expected running time was 12 hours. It continued to grow, eventually looking like it would finish at 18 hours. Cousins decided this could be honed “to 15 hours but any less and — I told my producer and Tabitha Jackson our Exec Producer at More4 — we’d have to cut out Woody Allen, Robert Altman, people like that… So they gave me 15 hours.”

Those final 15 hours represent tens of thousands of hours of work. Cousins estimates the work needed to prepare and finish the clips from other films (of which there are about 1,000) totalled 20,000 man hours, most of it completed by just Cousins and Archer, working 90-hour weeks on four hours sleep a night, with festival and broadcast deadlines looming. Before that, they spent six years travelling the world — “across China and LA, to Tokyo and the streets of Mumbai, to the urban canyons of New York, the film schools of Paris, to Eisenstein’s Moscow and Bergman’s Sweden” — recording interviews and scene-setting footage. It’s an epic undertaking, whichever way you cut it. As film programmer Thom Powers described it in the TIFF catalogue, “by taking a DIY approach, Cousins preserves an editorial independence that normally gets lost with a bigger budget and committee decision-making. […] After experiencing this history from such a distinctive viewpoint, you may crave similar treatments for music, literature, politics or whatever compels you.”

The end result is indeed a magnificent viewing experience. Cousins’ chosen remit is so wide, and his knowledge so deep, that even the most seasoned cinephile is sure to learn something new at some point. It’s like attending a film course with an immensely well-read lecturer who’s keen to share his accumulated wisdom with you. Indeed, to quote from the man himself again, “in the era of DVD, Blu-ray, streaming and VOD, hundreds of thousands of movies are available, often a click away. At times of such plenitude, it’s easy to get bewildered — what should I watch next? The Story of Film: An Odyssey is […] our passionate suggestions of what to watch next.” Those suggestions encompass the whole history and world of cinema, in a very literal way. This manifestly isn’t just the story of Hollywood and European arthouse — Cousins is also keen to cover the emergent cinema of South America, Africa, and others. Including them isn’t a sop; a case of “everyone gets a prize!” It’s a case of films of genuine import or interest that have been overlooked, for various reasons, and Cousins makes a strong case not only for why these wrongs should be righted, but for why you’d want them to be, too.

Nonetheless, some have criticised the series for its lack of focus on American/Western cinema, which is to spectacularly miss (part of) the point. One of Cousins’ goals is to shake us out of our inward-looking learnt-by-rote Hollywood-centric history of the movies. He’s not seeking to ignore Hollywood, but to share what was going on elsewhere in the world — stuff that, sometimes, Hollywood later appropriated for its own. And besides, I don’t need him to tell me of the rise and fall of the studio system, of the arrival of the film school auteurs, of the birth and growth of the blockbuster, of the indie explosion and near-death, of the rise of a new studio system and the near-dominance of the blockbuster. Some people seem to want a documentary that tells the history of cinema as they already know it; a documentary that does so little to challenge their existing knowledge that they probably could’ve knocked it out themselves given an hour or two. Isn’t it better to have something challenging? Something that says, “you think you know the history of cinema, but are you sure?” Something that shows us something new.

Cousins specifically outlines pretty much all of this in his eight-minute introduction right at the start of the series. He outright says the accepted history of cinema is wrong and needs rewriting. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to accept that he’s right to say that — and whether or not you feel his story adequately makes the case for it will be the deciding factor in whether you should believe him or not — but to expect anything different is to not be paying attention. He also makes clear that it’s the story of innovation in film. Does that make it comprehensive? No, of course not — there are surely many films that aren’t innovative in and of themselves but that are significant and immensely influential. That doesn’t make Cousins wrong to omit them, because that’s not exactly the story he’s telling. But it also validates the argument that this is “a” story of film rather than a catch-all definitive telling of everything important.

The other main complaint about the series seems to concern Cousins’ voice, in particular citing a tendency towards AQI. This might sound like a witless niggle, but when you’re essentially listening to that voice talk for 15 hours, it isn’t a small issue. Personally, I find AQI intensely irritating and so think I’m quite sensitive to it, but I barely heard it at all. In fact, on the whole, I found Cousins’ narration to be uncommonly pleasant, especially as it so often comes with the benefit of some nice, crisp diction. Besides, that upward inflection “is also a feature of several UK dialects, especially in mid-Ulster and Belfast” — guess which city Mr Cousins hails from.

Although The Story of Film works as one (very long) film, it’s also possible to see where the divisions into 15 TV-friendly parts occurred. Here are some of my thoughts on each section, using the titles as found in the DVD booklet (because not everyone agrees on those).

Part One: Birth of the Cinema (1895-1920)

Beginning at the beginning, the opening hour is like a “basics of film” class — it covers all the innovations of framing (close-ups), editing (parallel cutting; the 180 rule), and more. It teaches how films are built to this day from how those rules were discovered and established. When it moves on to things like the birth of the movie star, of special effects, of Hollywood, you realise that so much of what still defines the world of movies was set out back in its very earliest days.

As an opening instalment, it also gives you a sense of Cousins’ stylistic goals for the series. For instance, although this is an artistic history of film (of its concepts, ideas, and meanings), it’s one that’s cognisant of how external real-world forces played a part in that — for example, the American studios being located in Hollywood because of people wanting to avoid the copyrights and patents placed on filmmaking on the East Coast. It also tells the story across the ages at all times. The broad sweep of the narrative structure moves chronologically, but Cousins is unafraid to make connections to films made many decades later to help illustrate a point or to show how ideas or techniques have endured. It’s more effective and informative than remaining slavishly chronological.

Part Two: The Hollywood Dream (1920s)

Sticking with the silent era (more on the significance of that in a minute), this hour covers grand fantasies and romances, like The Thief of Bagdad; the innovations and influence of silent comedians like Keaton, Lloyd and, primarily, Chaplin; and the birth of documentary, not as mere observed non-fiction, but as storytelling in its own right. Cousins asserts that documentary is seen by most as being plainly factual, but it is actually one of the most innovative of all genres. Certainly, there’s more to the construction of documentaries than some people realise.

Even this early in the series, there are so many films of which we get fascinating glimpses — it’s sure to leave you with a massive list of things you want to see. Similarly, it’s so dense with information and analysis that it feels wrong to watch too much at once. It’s like eating too much rich food: you still enjoy it, but you can’t separate it out in your mind, can’t appreciate or process it properly. But then binge watching is all the rage nowadays, so maybe that’s just me. (Or maybe people aren’t appreciating things fully, but that’s a debate for another time.)

Part Three: Expressionism, Impressionism, Surrealism (1920s)

The third hour explicitly concerns the people and movements Cousins sees as alternatives or rebels to ’20s and ’30s cinema, both what they did that was different and how it fed back into the mainstream. We’re talking the likes of impressionism (Abel Gance), expressionism (Caligari), surrealism (Buñuel), the Russians (Eisenstein), the Japanese (Ozu), the Chinese (Ruan Lingyu), and more. All innovated in different ways — ways that were either integrated into common filmmaking, or remain striking and boundary-pushing to this day, almost 100 years later.

Some people write off the silent era as “that funny little bit at the beginning before sound came along”, dismissing a 35-year chunk of culture in a single swipe. That’s like ignoring every film made between 1981 and today (which, in fairness, I suppose some people do). Naturally, Cousins is not so foolhardy: it’s over three hours before he reaches the arrival of sound. When he ends this hour by foreshadowing the coming of sound, it’s constructed like a cliffhanger; not only that, but the narration disappears and is replaced by intertitles, to emphasise the point. This isn’t classical documentary making, but playful, individualistic, and clearly iconoclastic. It’s a personal visual lecture, rather than a glossy, polished, manufactured ‘product’.

Part Four: The Arrival of Sound (1930s)

Sound is obviously an important aspect of movies nowadays, but at first it was almost more of a burden. Cousins argues that its arrival standardised American cinema into only six genres: horror, Western, gangster, comedy, musical, and animation. It’s an interesting contention — I suppose his broader point is that Hollywood atrophied, to an extent; its camerawork certainly did, at least at first — but it doesn’t sound quite extensive enough. I mean, surely they made romances?

Still, it’s easy to let such things slide when Cousins is busy drawing fascinating links elsewhere. Here, he discusses the contrast between the white light of Westerns (films about an idealistic age when laws were made) and the dirty light of gangster pictures (films about a dying world where lawbreakers are the heroes of a cynical age, when the making of the laws is long forgotten). These two genres co-exist, yet don’t consciously interact — except in the mind of the filmgoer, when we see both types of picture and can draw such links; links that none of the filmmakers involved ever intended, but which are unquestionably there. Cousins draws out these connections beautifully.

Finally, Cousins paints the ’30s as being about the American genres vs. innovation in European cinema, before taking us to London to meet a man who was both a great genre filmmaker and great innovator: Alfred Hitchcock. Britain bridging the gap between Europe and the US? Twas ever thus.

Part Five: Post-War Cinema (1940s)

Hitchcock said cinema is life with the boring bits cut out; the neo-realists said cinema is the boring bits. That probably explains why I’ve yet to enjoy anything neo-realist. Aside from that, Cousins gives us a nice big chunk on film noir and how it combined multiple influences, and covers the importance of Welles, Stagecoach, and The Third Man, which Cousins thinks encapsulates all of ’40s cinema. As you can see, this is not a documentary maker who’s ignoring established and well-known texts, but is perhaps more selective about which merit inclusion.

From a filmmaking perspective, between the film clips the series is what you might call “artistically shot” — there are very few talking heads; it’s all narrated by Cousins; and there’s lots of metaphorical imagery, some blatant (to represent the bauble of Hollywood we have… a bauble on a tree near Hollywood), others more ephemeral. However, at this point in the series we begin to see more taking heads, because we’re reaching eras where people (or people-who-knew-people) are still alive. It feels like a consequence of that is more close readings of specific films and/or filmmakers, with the series moving away from the “film theory” feel of earlier episodes a little bit, more into the territory of being the story of what occurred.

Part Six: Sex & Melodrama (1950s)

Talking of filmmaking technique, Cousins chooses to frame every interview differently. You might think it amateurism, not knowing how to frame interviewees consistently, but it was a conscious choice. He was, presumably, trying to convey something with how he framed them. Whether that was a worthwhile exercise or not is another matter. It certainly comes across as highly idiosyncratic at times.

At this point, the story of film is really increasingly global: there are great films in America, Britain, Europe, and Japan, as you might expect, but also Egypt, India, and Latin America. On the surface, the different films of these different countries are completely different. Underneath, Cousins demonstrates, they’re linked by trying to come to terms with a new, changing world, repressed emotions bursting forth, and sex. Lots of sex.

Part Seven: European New Wave (1960s)

Cousins begins by tackling the new waves led by four European directors: Bergman, Fellini, Bresson, Tati. There are a couple of significant directors missing from what one typically thinks of as “new wave” there, but this isn’t Cousins being deliberately controversial: after talking about the innovations of those four, he says the directors of the French New Wave came along and “carpet bombed” their revolutions, describing Godard as “the greatest movie terrorist”.

Here, Baz Luhrmann (believe it or not) makes a nice point about changing styles: the Nouvelle Vague wasn’t “real life”, it was an artifice, but an artifice that rejected the big costumes, pretty shots, vibrant colours, and romanticism of mainstream American cinema; and eventually that artifice came back in to fashion, and eventually it will be rejected again. Everything is cyclical, which is practically a philosophy for all life. Luhrmann compares it to language: the words change but the message remains the same; people always say “I love you” or “I want to kill you”, but how they say it is just fashion.

Part Eight: New Directors, New Form (1960s)

As the ’60s continue, new waves and revolutions are everywhere. There’s the Eastern Bloc and the cinema of protest (“rebels with a cause”, as Cousins puts it) and even more new, radical filmmakers in Japan, Africa, Iran, even the UK: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Kes, A Hard Day’s Night. It’s interesting to see very familiar films of British cinema put into this context — Ken Loach discusses the influence of Czech film on Kes, for instance.

Not even America is exempt. In a world where JFK, Malcolm X, and a million civilians in Vietnam protests were all murdered, and where cinema attendance was falling as people stayed home with TV, there were radical filmmakers Stateside too — including Hitchcock! Psycho, for instance, which eschews Hollywood gloss with its plain costumes, plain locations, and plain black & white photography, which Cousins aligns with documentary-influenced independent cinema. More obviously, there was Easy Rider. It was innovative, throwing all kinds of techniques at the screen, and appealed to young people who were fed up with conservative mainstream cinema and wanted something groundbreaking, forward-thinking, revolutionary — and it was a box office hit. The series gets you in the mindset to go beyond the connections Cousins draws and begin to make links yourself. Like, if this is how film as a medium, and society as a whole, seems always to have moved forward, then what thrilling revolutions can we see young people flocking to in the modern day? Disney superhero movies. Belated sequels to childhood favourites. Adaptations of socially conservative novels aimed at teenagers. Oh. Such contrast between then and now is a bit depressing, really.

Cousins concludes by saying this era of innovativeness wasn’t permanent — the ’70s would bring old-fashioned romantic entertaining cinema. As per Luhrmann’s theory, “what goes around comes around”, essentially. To be more positive about modern movies, I suppose this is an era we’re in now. I guess you could conflate the indie boom of the ’90s with the ’60s, or the auteur side of the ’70s; while the post-millennial special effects blockbusters are the latest incarnation of the Star Wars/Jaws/etc-driven ’80s. But then again, blockbusters also existed in the ’90s, and popular indie movies exist now — so how do you decide what’s the dominant form of an era? Is that purely the job of history — what gets remembered best. But what about when they all get remembered, as with the ’90s? I’ve diverged wildly into my own half-conceived theories here, but as if to back up my point about a time being more than one thing, the ’70s are about to get three whole episodes…

Part Nine: American Cinema of the 70s

In the first part on the ’70s, Cousins identifies three types of American auteurs/arthouse: mockery/satire (Buck Henry), dissident films that challenged conventional style (Charles Burnett), and assimilationist movies that told studio genre-style stories with new techniques (Robert Towne). Flying in the face of that criticism about Cousins ignoring US/Western films, in most eras he comes back to America, its story and innovations, after he’s done everywhere else. The exceptions are the birth of Hollywood in the ’20s and the radical ’70s, when he starts with America. Does Cousins want to get these famed and fêted eras in the US out of the way before he moves on to elsewhere, to avoid the nagging “but what about [major US film / director / movement]” question that many viewers would be troubled about otherwise? I doubt he’s so concerned with what you or I are pondering. Rather, these are the times when American cinema was most genuinely innovative (at least in Cousins’ opinion).

Part Ten: Movies to Change the World (1970s)

In the second part of the ’70s, Cousins has a particularly bold assertion: “Performance was not only the greatest ’70s film about identity. If any movie in the whole story of film should be compulsory viewing for filmmakers, maybe this is it.” I’ve not seen it, so I couldn’t say whether I agree or not, but it’s an unusual claim.

Cousins rattles round the globe here (Germany, Japan, Italy, Australia), but the most interesting part comes in Burkina Faso. Today, tens of thousands of people there attend the opening of a film festival. Local director Gaston Kaboré argues that consuming film from other countries is interesting, but if that’s all you do then your lose your uniqueness, your own way of seeing and thinking, your identity. This is exactly what continues to happen in countries that primarily consume American movies — they are increasingly Americanised. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to argue that Britain is one of the worst hit by this. Unlike other countries, we have governments with no serious interest in supporting a national cinema, and the lack of a language barrier between us and the US (only aided by the internet, both in terms of global conversation and media piracy) has created an ever-strengthening supply-and-demand culture across both TV and film. Of course, it can go both ways: look at all the British TV series that have had relatively large US success in the past few years. Somehow I think it’s had more of an impact on our little island, though.

Part Eleven: The Arrival of Multiplexes and Asian Mainstream (1970s)

As Cousins closes out his three-hour overview of the ’70s, we (or I) find ourselves in much more familiar territory: first Hong Kong, for the Shaw Brothers, Bruce Lee, John Woo, Tsui Hark, A Better Tomorrow, Once Upon a Time in China, Dragon Inn, Iron Monkey… then India, for Bollywood and Sholay… then the Middle East, with films about Mohammad and recent events… and then, most recognisable of all to Western audiences, and most influential of all to the world, Hollywood — Jaws, The ExorcistStar Wars. In all instances, this is cinema that moved away from intellectual thought and hard-hitting realism, and more towards feeling, sensation, emotion, fantasy. These things come and go (Luhrmann’s point about the cyclical nature of it all being perhaps the most pertinent observation of the entire series), but it’s hard to argue against the developments of the ’70s still being an influence today.

Part Twelve: Fight the Power: Protest in Film (1980s)

Much of this series is about things that are important within the world of film, but here we find movies that literally changed the world — like A Short Film About Killing, which contributed to the abolition of the death penalty in Poland. Elsewhere, director John Sayles and his producer/partner Maggie Renzi give birth to the methodology of what we now know as American independent cinema. Renzi says that Hollywood doesn’t even do what Hollywood does very well anymore — that it takes nine writers to produce a screenplay no better than the first draft — and she’s probably right.

While the list of “films that look worth seeing” continues to grow, sometimes the speed at which they pass by makes it tricky to know how worth seeing they are. For example, in this hour Cousins discusses Yeelen, describing it as “one of cinema’s most complex works of art”. Based on a Malian legend, telling of a heroic quest featuring magic and precognition, it sounds interesting, but it’s also hard to infer if it’s complex in a good, interesting way or in a frustrating, pretentious way.

Part Thirteen: New Boundaries: World Cinema in Africa, Asia, Latin America (1990s)

With only a couple of hours left(!), Cousins reaches modern concerns — here, it’s the last hurrah of celluloid and realism, before digital and fakery took over. Part of Cousins’ thesis seems to be that world cinema filmmakers were reacting to fantasy cinema by trying to show the real world, but that became a last gasp before fantasy cinema took over. It’s almost like a battle for the fate of cinema, between realism and fantasy; and fantasy won. So we have Dogme 95 and La Haine, but also Iranian filmmakers who played with form and reality, like making fictional versions of true stories using the real people; or Abbas Kiarostami, who made a film, then made a film about searching for the actors from that film, then made a film about an incident from the making of the second film. And fantasy and reality collide in places, like Michael Haneke and Funny Games, where the evil youths wink at the camera and rewind life like we rewind videos. That was groundbreaking, and obviously only possible in the home video era when rewinding, y’know, existed.

Part Fourteen: New American Independents & The Digital Revolution (1990s)

As we get closer to today, you find more and more references to the past. Is film coming full circle? Or at least becoming more self-aware; referencing itself more often. We’re talking Tarantino’s post-modern screenplays, the Coen brother’s re-appropriation of classic genres and imagery, Gus Van Sant’s film-history-aware visuals, the satire of Paul Verhoeven, Baz Luhrmann’s flamboyant romanticisation of real life, and so on. It makes you think: is this the absolutely perfect time to be making a major “history of film” documentary?

It also reminds you that style or genre do not have to negate substance. Starship Troopers was born out of Verhoeven’s desire to make a film about young men coming into the prime of their lives at an exciting time for their country when everything was developing — that time and country being Germany in 1935, and the men being excited by Nazism. No Hollywood studio would ever make that movie, of course, but take those themes and do them as science fiction…

Part Fifteen: Cinema Today and the Future (2000s)

Unsurprisingly, the concluding hour feels somewhat less clear about what was particularly innovative and what exactly was going on that was most significant — it’s coming up to the present day and looking to the future, which is too recent to get a proper handle on. Nonetheless, Cousins does find genuine innovation, like the single-take Russian Ark. It’s not a film I liked, and even the analysis here incidentally alludes to why: you need to know what you’re seeing, and the context of what came next (in history) to get the point. If your knowledge of Russian history isn’t on the money, if you don’t know what you’re seeing depicted and what came after it, the film offers you no succour, and feels aimless. But innovative? Yes. Indeed, it’s a filmmaking feat that has only recently been emulated.

Talking of emulation, it seems unlikely anyone else will make a documentary as comprehensive and insightful as what Cousins has achieved here. For anyone serious about a love of film, it is a must-see. That doesn’t mean you’ll always agree with it, or accept it as the definitive telling of the story of motion pictures, but it is nonetheless a wide-reaching and thoroughly educational overview of what is arguably modern times’ most significant artform.

5 out of 5

The Millennial Monthly Update for August 2015

After last month was all centennial, because I reached 2015’s #100, this month is millennial, because I made it to 1,000 Films in a Decade Eight Years and Eight Months.

More on that soon, as well as all this:


Shallow Grave#103 Space Station 76 (2014)
#104 The Thing (2011)
#105 Shallow Grave (1994)
#106 Sherlock Holmes (1922), aka Moriarty
#107 Life of Pi (2012)
#108 Contagion (2011)
#109 Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
#110 Interstellar (2014)
#111 End of Watch (2012)
Stranger by the Lake#112 The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)
#113 Inherent Vice (2014)
#114 The Theory of Everything (2014)
#115 Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)
#116 Shivers (1975)
#117 Stranger by the Lake (2013), aka L’inconnu du lac
#118 Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)


  • As you may have noticed, this month I reached my 1,000th film. More about that here.
  • Before that, there was a countdown — with pictures! Thrilling stuff. It’s archived here.
  • As #1000 was 15-hour documentary The Story of Film, it took over a few extra slots in my schedule. If I’d been watching regular-length films instead, August’s tally would be four or five films larger.
  • No WDYMYHS films this month — just The Story of Film adding more ideas for future iterations!


In October 2014 I commented that, at best, “one of 2015’s last films will be #1000”. Hahahaha, how times have changed! “One of 2015’s last films”? Oh no, dear sir (“dear sir” in this instance being “me 11 months ago”) — there are still four months of 2015 to go!

In fairness to past-me, the three previous occasions on which I’d reached a #112 (2007, 2010, 2014) were all in November. It just continues 2015’s extraordinary run, though: this month, it passed 2013 to become my fourth most successful year, even with four months still to go. #118 is further than I’ve ever reached by the end of October, never mind August.

As for this August in itself, a tally of 16 makes it the 15th month in a row to reach double figures. It easily passes the August average (previously 10.57, now 11.25) and is just above 2015’s rolling average (currently at 14.75). It’s the third month this year to reach 16, and the fifth ever, which makes it part of a five-way tie for my third highest-tallying month ever. It’s also the 10th month in a row to best the same period a year ago, when August 2014 totalled 15. That may be the end of that though: September will have to be my second highest-totalling month ever to beat its 2014 counterpart. Of course, if I can keep up my current pace — and without a schedule-hogging behemoth like The Story of Film to stand in the way — that’s not an impossible expectation.

Last August, I pointed out how inaccurate August was for predicting the final tally… but then used those inaccurate predictions to spot a new pattern and offer a revised prediction. Which, naturally, I completely obliterated: having predicted a final total of 115-120, I reached 136. Nonetheless, there’s no fun in offering no predictions — and I’ve been remarkably consistent with my viewing this year, actually — so here we go regardless.

To be honest, whatever I forecast is good news. Four more months of my ten-film-minimum goal has 2015 becoming my best-ever year before the end of October, and a final tally of at least 158. If my rolling average of 14.75 holds I’ll make it even further, to #177, and if I can continue my year-on-year monthly increase (with, as mentioned, September being the greatest challenge) then I’ll pass #178. I’ve been forecasting a finish in the 170s ever since February, so, to be honest, I’ll be a bit disappointed if I don’t make that. And all of these numbers are slight increases on their counterparts from last month, so perhaps #180+ isn’t out of the question…



The 3rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It’s a toughie this month — lots of films I really enjoyed, including five I gave full marks to. Five! (If you were going to look to see which, know that I haven’t posted reviews for four of them yet.) But the one that most surprised me, and created the strongest emotional connection to boot, was Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, not many poor films this month. That said, there were a couple I found to be below par, but none felt like they squandered their potential quite as much as Justice League: The New Frontier.

Space-Set CGI That Looked Most Like Models (Pleasingly)
Space Station 76.

Space-Set Models That Looked Most Like Reality (Pleasingly)
Interstellar.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It always helps give hits a boost if someone else promotes a post. In August, thanks to a tweet by the film’s producers, the most-viewed post was Space Station 76.


Ben-Hur (1925) A Silent Film Review @ Movies Silently
For her 200th silent film review, Fritzi has penned a “mammoth” about the first feature-length adaptation of Lew Wallace’s novel, including a comparison to the more-famed 1959 adaptation. “Mammoth” is the word: by my quick count it clocks in at over 12,000 words! I confess I haven’t even read all of it yet, but I think we can trust it to be worth every syllable.

The highest ranked feature length narrative film on Letterboxd for each year 2014-1920
An interesting way of looking at film history, shared by Letterboxd’s own Twitter courtesy of someone on Reddit who since deleted their name. The gallery can still be viewed here, though.

The Last Unicorn (1982) Review @ Cinema Parrot Disco
This month’s lesson is “don’t judge a film by its cover”, because The Last Unicorn looks like some dated, cheesy, little-girl-y crap, but table9mutant’s review makes it sound awesome, and there are lots of other pretty pictures to cement the point.

My Top 7 James Bond Opening Title Sequences @ Film Grimoire
Who doesn’t love a Bond title sequence? Here, Anna explains her top seven picks (in honour of 007, of course), and while I can’t say I agree with all of them (Quantum of Solace? No thanks) it’s still a good read.

My Top Ten Drew Struzan Movie Art Pieces @ Cinema Parrot Disco
What movie fan doesn’t love the work of Drew Struzan (even if you don’t know his name), the renowned poster artist who created enduring imagery for a host of ’80s and ’90s films, and whose style tends to influence at least one poster for every major movie still, even as they’ve moved on to nought but photo montage. Here, table9mutant takes on the tough job of selecting favourites from Struzan’s extensive oeuvre.

Peculiar opening credit text @ Dial M For Movies
Rhett Bartlett mounts a collection of opening-credit oddities, things “the film maker feels they must tell the audience” right at the start. My personal favourite is the first, from The Old Dark House: “We explain this to settle all disputes in advance…”

The Serpent and the Rainbow @ Vinnieh
The sad news of the death of horror auteur Wes Craven reached us yesterday, but this is an incidental tribute. A carry-over from last month, this write-up by Vinnie meant Craven’s true story-inspired tale of voodoo in Haiti really piqued my interest. It seems it was recently released on a poor UK Blu-ray, though a Shout Factory release is expected in the US early in 2016, which will no doubt be excellent.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015) A Silent Film Review @ Movies Silently
The Wallace & Gromit spin-off’s spin-off movie opened to much acclaim here way back in February, but finally made it across the pond at the start of August. Here, Fritzi offers her typically irreverent take on why it really is a true silent movie. No, really.

Straight Outta Compton (2015) [Review] @ movieblort
It’s not an area of music I know much (read: anything) about, nor especially care for, but movieblort has me sold on why this biopic about the rise and fall of hip-hop group N.W.A. will be worth a look.

The Western Godfather @ True West
Bending the “articles from the past month” rule, but this interview — of Kurt Russell by Henry Cabot Beck — was too interesting not to share. In it, Russell reveals for the first time some of the truth behind the filming of Tombstone. The piece is nearly nine years old now, so I’m sure aficionados are well aware of its contents; but if you’ve not come across it before, it’s rather fascinating.



This is the last archive review summary. My dedicated effort to re-post all my old reviews began in July 2014, and 14 months later they’re finished. (After the reviews: what comes after the reviews.)


With all the reviews up, it’s now on to the rest of my unposted posts. More details in the first. (The one with the mop.)



Films I Hadn’t Heard of Before Watching The Story of Film
But Now Really Want to See

Mark Cousins’ documentary features somewhere north of 500 films. Kudos to anyone who’s seen all of them (especially if it was before the documentary came along and automatically became a checklist for some people). For us mere mortals, however, it’s a mix of ones we’ve seen, ones we want to see, ones we’re merely aware of, and a whole load of stuff we’ve never even heard of. The series also has a propensity to make you really want to see the films it features — not just ones you already knew you wanted to get round to it, but out-of-the-blue discoveries. So in tribute to the latter, I present this month’s highly personal (when isn’t it?) top five.

  1. Napoleon (1927)
    A cheat, because I have heard of Abel Gance’s 5½-hour biopic about the diminutive French general, but I’ve kind of ignored it because it’s hard for normal folk to see: Kevin Brownlow’s acclaimed restoration has never been released on any home format, only screening at festivals and the like (with two intermissions — one for dinner!), apparently due to some dubious copyright claim by Francis Ford Coppola. Shame.
  2. Cairo Station (1958)
    Cousins has a tendency to label films “the first great [insert name of place] film”, and I believe this was his pick for Africa; certainly for Egypt. Patrick Heenan in The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers may seem to disagree, but he does concur that it has “visual brilliance”.
  3. Black Girl (1966)
    Another thing Cousins has a tendency to do is give away the ending of films he covers. I suppose the only way to examine a work’s full meaning or worth is to discuss it in its entirety, and any truly great film is going to withstand having its plot revealed. Indeed, it may only have been Cousins’ full explanation of Black Girl that made it so intriguing.
  4. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987)
    And the same could be said of this Japanese documentary, which follows a former soldier as he attempts to find out the truth about what happened to some of his comrades during World War 2, and unearths some very, very dark secrets. Sounds to me like a film about a kind of paranoia being vindicated.
  5. Hyenas (1992)
    Three of these films are from Africa, which possibly says as much about Western awareness of African cinema as it does about the inherent quality of that continent’s output. This Senegalese comedy-drama explores consumerism in a way that apparently “brings human folly and cynicism into sharp focus”.

…and there are so many, many more. Whatever you think of the documentary as a whole (and opinions are certainly mixed), as a showcase for great cinema it may be unparalleled.


After three months where the new-style titles of these progress reports actually signified something, the parade of meaningless monthly update adjectives begins…

And I’ll probably watch some films and write about them, too.

100 Films in a Year’s 1,000th film is…

Basic maths tells us that, in theory, 100 films in a year should result in 1,000 films in a decade. Patently, this is not the case: after eight years, seven months and sixteen days of my self-imposed titular challenge, I have viewed my 1,000th film.

And it is Mark Cousin’s 15-hour documentary, The Story of Film: An Odyssey.

Normally I’d leave such an announcement for my monthly update, but the next one’s a fortnight away and this is a special occasion. Also, I wanted to take a moment to address a few issues this choice might kick up, which also pads out this otherwise rather slight post.*

Firstly, for anyone who might have forgotten/never bothered to read the ‘rules’ (I don’t blame you), this is my 1,000th official/counted/main list film. That only includes films I’d never seen before, or alternative cuts that are significantly modified from the version I’d previously seen. This is why there are over 1,000 reviews on this blog but I’ve only now reached #1000, because I’ve also reviewed every not-that-different alternate cut I’ve seen in that time, as well as covering a handful of other movies.

Secondly, you may well be thinking, “but that’s a TV series, you cheeky so-and-so!” Well, yes and no. It’s true that it premiered on UK TV, and so that’s the form most people will have experienced it in, whether when it aired on More4 here or on TCM in the US or on another local broadcaster. But, ever since the time of its UK debut it’s been screened at various film festivals around the world (look, several pieces of evidence), and it’s in this form that it’s presented on its DVD release: not as 15 episodic chunks, but as a 15-hours-and-15-minutes whole (which has to be split across five discs). So yes, it is a TV series; but also, it’s a film. And it’s enough of a film for me to count it.

(See also today’s archive repost, a piece I wrote in 2008 titled “What makes a film a film?”)

So there we have it: long before I reach a decade of this malarkey, I’m 1,000 films done. Well, I haven’t actually finished it yet (c’mon, it’s 15 hours! I’ve made a start), but my point near enough stands. Yay me!

The full countdown to #1000 can be revisited here.
The Story of Film: An Odyssey will be reviewed in due course.

* Do the explanations exist to fill out the post, or does the post exist as a home for the explanations? Deep thoughts, man. ^

The Centennial Monthly Update for July 2015

It’s a month of mixed emotions here at 100 Films, not least thanks to it being the earliest I’ve ever made it to #100.

But before even that, this month’s menu:


What Do You Mean You Haven't Seen…?

This month I was, happily, faced with the choice about what should be 2015’s #100. Fundamentally this doesn’t matter, of course — it’s just another thing watched, which just so happens to be the 100th new thing I’ve watched since a point in time we have decided marks the beginning of a new time-cycle (…just to suck all the romance out of it, there). Given the aim and title of this blog, however, of course #100 takes on significance. In a last-week-of-December scramble-to-the-finish situation, which film is #100 doesn’t matter so much as the very existence of a #100 does; in the more leisurely situation of reaching that point in July, however, there’s time to reflect and consider what film will join the likes of Citizen Kane, The Hurt Locker and Lawrence of Arabia in the 100 Films #100 Club. And I mention this in the WDYMYHS section, rather than Viewing Notes or Analysis or something, because the natural choice for such an accolade seemed to be a WDYMYHS film. So from the list of what was left, I selected the movie I felt most likely (based on its reputation and so on and so forth) to chime with my own tastes — the movie I most felt ‘should’ wind up being a personal favourite.

But first — I’m behind on WDYMYHS, so have been intending to watch multiple selections within a month for a while now, and this month I finally managed it. So before the glory of #100, another WDYMYHS graced my list at #97: John Carpenter’s The Thing. I thought there was a lot to like, but I didn’t love it.

Then on to #100 — the movie I felt most likely to love, that I should find a personal favourite. I have to say, it’s the kind of film I started WDYMYHS for — the very point of the exercise is to make me watch films like this; ones I’ve been meaning to for years, have been led to believe that I will love, but for whatever reason haven’t had a pressing enough reason to get round to. So that’s what led to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil being 2015’s #100. Thank goodness, it lived up to the hype. Naturally I watched the “final cut” he created for Criterion (is any other version readily available these days? Apart from the “avoid except for academic interest” “Love Conquers All” version Criterion bundle in, that is), which I might think is a little on the long side, but, well, I still greatly enjoyed it.

Anyway, that’s 100 done. Hurrah! And with that said, of course July wasn’t just about those two films…


July's viewing
Scanners
#91 Returning to Jedi (2007)
#92 Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics (2013)
#93 Scanners (1981)
#94 Song of the Sea (2014)
#95 The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)
#96 The Voices (2014)
Brazil#96a X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut (2014/2015)
#97 The Thing (1982)
#98 Lilo & Stitch (2002)
#99 TMNT (2007)
#100 Brazil (1985)
#101 Salvation Boulevard (2011)
#102 RED 2 (2013)


Viewing Notes

  • I backed The Death of “Superman Lives” documentary on Kickstarter a couple of years ago now and have been patiently waiting for it to turn up ever since, so it was kinda weird when half the internet (not to mention Proper Film Magazines ‘n’ that) was talking about it a few weeks ago. At some point I’ll post a proper review, but if you’re interested in its topic then it’s definitely worth a look.
  • Utterly meaningless, but it’s also the first film I’ve watched this year that’s title begins with ‘D’. Odd for such a common letter. (The only other unrepresented letters at this point are Q, U, Y and Z. And X, technically, as Days of Future Past isn’t on the main list.)


Analysis

July 2015 was a month of mixed results. On the one hand, watching 12 new films ticks a number of boxes: it smashes July’s low average (previously 5.86, now 6.63); as that might indicate, it’s also the highest July ever; it continues my at-least-10-per-month-all-year goal; and it’s the ninth month in a row to show an increase year-on-year.

On the other hand, it’s the lowest-tallying month of 2015 so far, and only the second month to fall short of the yearly average (which still rounds up to 15). That said, not included is that I spent time this month re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in its extended form to boot. Add that to The Rogue Cut and you get 16 films for the month — much more normal (well, normal for 2015). So, y’know, swings and roundabouts.

And, as mentioned, I made it to #100 — that excuses plenty in my book. It’s the earliest I’ve ever reached it, the previous best being September 9th. That was all the way back in my first year, 2007, making it perhaps the only record 2014 didn’t claim. This year has been rather good by my standards, so it’s one I don’t foresee breaking again. I mean, if I had five consecutive best-ever months (i.e. better than I’ve ever done, x5) then I could squeeze it in by the end of May. Well, you never know.

Over in prediction corner, if I can keep up my ten-minimum for another five months, as desired, 2015 will end no lower than #152. Remember, my previous best is 136, so that alone would leave me feeling pretty darn chuffed. Bolder estimates: my pace so far has me reaching #175; if I could consistently reclaim the 2015 mode average (which is 15), I’d hit #177; if I can manage to continue the year-on-year monthly increases (an increasingly tough task, as the end of 2014 was so strong), I get as far as #178. A finish anywhere northwards of #170 is a 25% improvement on my previous best, so that’d be more than grand.


The Arbies
The 2nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A few films this month were good but didn’t quite live up to my expectations, which makes this feel like a pretty clear choice: it’s Brazil again.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
It’s taken me eight years to get round to it, so I clearly can’t’ve been that fussed, but I really wanted to enjoy TMNT. I didn’t not enjoy it, per se, but it wasn’t all I wanted it to be either.

Best Portrayal of a Dog, Cat, Deer, Fish and Bunny Monkey
Ryan Reynolds, your superhero sins are forgiven. (Also, the Comic-Con Deadpool trailer looked great, so that too.)

Most Evil Alien
The Thing from The Thing, or Stitch from Lilo & Stitch? Stitch from Lilo & Stitch, or the Thing from The Thing? Oh, it’s a tough call! Ok, Stitch does redeem himself (itself?), so I guess the Thing edges it.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
This award goes to another award — my Liebster Award! Maybe y’all want to know about me more than I thought you did.


Reviews


Archive Reviews


In Memoriam

Just a couple of weeks ago, I commented here on the enduringness of our elderly dog, Rory. Sadly, not very long after that post, his long-standing health problems meant it was time for us to choose to say goodbye.

I know non-pet-owners often don’t ‘get it’ when a beloved pet passes away — I grew up in a very non-pet-y home, so I’ve been that person in the past. However, it’s a terrible wrench, even when it’s been inevitable for a while and you know you made the right decision.

Rory was a rescue, found as a stray, with enough health issues that we’ve been taking him to the vet essentially non-stop since we got him. He certainly went through the ringer even with us, starting with a dreadful skin condition, which eventually cleared up entirely after years of uniquely-formulated treatment. He lost the tip of one ear in an assault by another dog, and had his neck punctured in another (both encounters entirely unprovoked!) Then there was the more regular old-age ailment of arthritis; and, two-and-a-half years ago, he slipped a disc and his gall bladder packed up at the same time, leading to a tense Christmas/New Year spent at a specialist vet hospital (and to me not making it to 100 films in 2012).

Experienced owners in the family said they’d never seen a dog be so ill and pull back, but pull back he did, and for another couple of years to boot. He’d been judged too old and fragile to endure a back operation, so he lived with that slipped disc for those years, on pain killers of course, but he kept on. He was a little fighter, right to the end. In his last week, his spine problems finally reached a point where he could only stand for short periods intermittently, even for his beloved food, and that really meant it was time.

We’ll never know what happened to Rory in the years before he knew us, but — in spite of his catalogue of woes — we gave him six years, one month and one day of loving happiness. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if there is one, I do believe dogs are far more deserving of it than any of us humans. I’m sure Rory would enjoy being able to run free again, in between eating copious amounts of bacon and sausage. It breaks my heart that I’ll never see him again, but at least he’s at peace and out of pain.

(“From around the blogosphere”, the list of 5, and so on, will all return next month.)


Next month…

With the thrill of #100 passed, there’s a whole new level of excitement…

#1000 is coming.

The countdown begins imminently, as 2015’s #103 (i.e. the very next new film that I watch) will be the blog’s #991.

Expect banners, people.