The Story of Film – An Odyssey

I love movies as much as I love books. And because I love movies so much I started watching The Story of Film, which is currently available on Netflix.

Directed and narrated by Mark Cousins, a film critic from Northern Ireland, The Story of Film is 15 episodes, each an hour in length, that is literally the history of film from its early beginnings in the late 19th century to where it is now in the 21st century.

I’ve just finished Episodes 1 and 2, The Birth of Cinema and the Hollywood Dream, and I’ve learned so much about movies and the language of film that I can’t wait for the remaining 13 episodes.

What I especially like about this series is that it doesn’t just focus on American movies and Hollywood. Directors and filmmakers from around the world are also featured.

One thing of note from Episode 1 is that back in the early part of the 20th century, half of movie writers were women and women also directed. That, of course, was before movies started to make the kind of money we’re used to hearing about now. When the movies did start to turn a big profit, women were shouldered aside.

I highly recommend this series to any movie buffs, fans, groupies or afficionados. As I said, I’ve only seen two episodes and have learned so much not only about the history of film but about the language of film. The way light and shadow, movement and perspective, editing and pace, affects how we make and view movies.

For example, movies make use of the idea of perspective. Objects that are far away appear smaller, although in actual size they can be the size of a house.

Here’s a clip from Citizen Kane that shows how Orson Welles used the idea of perspective in film to convey an emotion. In this scene, Charles Kane (Welles) has learned that he’s been financially ruined by the stock market crash of 1929 and, although a grown man, must now depend on his guardian to help him. Notice how Welles walks away from the camera until he appears no bigger than a child (symbolizing his now dependent state on his guardian), but then returns until he’s his actual size and, which also occurs when his guardian says that Kane’s economic woes are just temporary.