by Allan Fish
(UK 2011 945m) DVD2
It looked like our dreams
d/w Mark Cousins ph Mark Cousins ed Timo Longer narrated by Mark Cousins
with Sharmila Tagore, Kyoko Kagawa, Lars Von Trier, Stanley Donen, Xie Jin, Youssef Chahine, Norman Lloyd, Jane Campion, Amitabh Bachchan, Robert Towne, Bernardo Bertolucci, Yuen Woo-ping, Paul Schrader, Baz Luhrmann, Terence Davies, etc.
There was a kids TV programme when I was growing up called Why Don’t You? It showcased kids doing various things to amuse themselves and featured a theme song which told its viewer to “stop watching TV, turn it off, it’s no good to me”; the only TV programme that was basically repudiating its viewers.
Writing this essay gives me that feeling twice over. This work is supposed to be a trawl through the great works of the moving image, but Cousins presents one with a dilemma; namely, that if the reader is coming to this as a beginner, he could do no better than to leave the screen or page they are reading and get the DVDs of this series and watch this before you start. The problem is that even then I would be plagiarising Cousins; he told his readers to do exactly that in the book the series was based on, telling them to go off and watch certain Hitchcock films if they haven’t already.
The whole purpose of my work was to remove the blinkers, to say that, while canons and accepted film histories are fine and focus the would-be film student to certain definitive works, they also blinker, blur the periphery and lead to myopia. As Cousins himself again said, setting out to show that movie history as we know it was “racist by omission.” The purpose of Cousins’ original book was akin to trying to throw a lasso round the moon like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. To put all of film history in one single volume – it was an impossible task to begin with, but there are times when the attempt itself is significant and this was one such time.
I’d first seen Cousins like many of my generation as the presenter of BBC2s cult movie series Moviedrome and his inimitable, deliberate Belfast drawl either enchanted or infuriated. He set about filming the documentary to go with the book the year it hit the shelves – 2004 – and interviewed dozens of people and visited countless locations in search of illustrations to the printed word. Several of the interviewees listed after the ‘with’ had passed on several years before it came to air.
Then in the autumn of 2011, with little to no fanfare, it was shown on More4 in the UK prior to a film festival tour in 2012. The pacing was ruined by those goddamned adverts that make almost all non-BBC TV impossible to watch with enjoyment and make you wait for the DVDs or Blu Rays. While bemoaning the omissions from conventional film histories, many will be aghast at the absences here – no film noir, no Sturges, to name one to represent dozens – but the same had been true of Scorsese’s A Personal Journey for the BFI in 1995. The difference was that Scorsese apologised for the omissions and listed them, much like I do in the Final Apologies here; Cousins makes no apology, and yet why should he? It’s his personal journey after all, and the breadth of clips is amazing even to an old cynic like me who thinks he’s seen or heard of just about everything. From the Lumières to Inception, from continent to continent and more establishing shots than a whole season of Alias, and with its capital seemingly in Dakar, Senegal, this is not for the complacent. In his intro to each episode, he talked of how movies are “a multi-billion dollar global entertainment industry now. But what drives them isn’t box-office or showbiz, it’s passion and innovation.” And there we come to the crux of the matter. Movies are all about money; art be hanged. In Hollywood, the talented cannot escape the curse, they’re contaminated – the bauble, as Cousins would say. This fifteen hour piece is his crusade against that, and anything written by the likes of yours truly cannot hope to have the same impact. Yet like Cousins, I still write because, when failure is inevitable, how gloriously you fail matters. And this is a truly glorious failure.