I was fortunate enough to meet Mark Cousins less than two months ago. We were very grateful to have him visit our University, giving a talk on the art of the video essay. Video essays are becoming a more and more popular form for visually expressing and presenting academic research and discussion. The video essay is still a new and experimental platform for academic work. Mark Cousins is widely viewed as a great pioneer and conqueror of the video essay. A Story of Children and Film, Cousins’ latest work which arrived in cinemas on Friday, can perhaps be viewed as a video essay as much as a film. A Story of Children and Film introduces us to a vast number of movies from across the globe and across the history of cinema. At the heart of this film; an exploration of childhood and its depiction in movies – all beautiful and many sadly forgotten.
Cousins has a rare accomplishment to his name; he has succeeded as both a film critic and a film maker. He has an unusual quality which allows him to study cinema whilst also making it. He is a philosophical mind with a truly unique voice. His greatest work is his epic documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey – a fifteen part series which explored the history of the cinematic medium. A Story of Children and Film is just as eloquent and equally mesmerising. Cousins uses footage of his niece and nephew playing in front of his camera to form the basis of his explorations. Watching the children play, fight and perform to the camera gives us a basis from which to start questioning what it means to be a child and how we define our childhoods. Along with this footage of the two children playing with a marble run, Cousins also incorporates powerful footage of nature, in all its beauty, captured on his vacations. Together, all three separate elements combine to make something truly unique and blissfully perfect.
It takes many different things to define childhood. Cinema portrays childhood, in all its misery and magic, in countless ways. Mark Cousins uses loneliness, dreams, performance, destruction, adventure and shyness as just some avenues for discussion surrounding children and cinema. From Loach’s Kes to Tarkovsky’s The Steamroller and the Violin and Ozu’s An Inn in Tokyo, we are taken on an intelligent and majestic ride through what is not only a divine study of cinema and children, and their relation to one another, but through some of world cinema’s most beautiful and most under-appreciated films. A Story of Children and Film is by far one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It is truly excellent, truly stunning and truly original. Here’s hoping we see more video essays in our cinemas soon. The originality and sheer knowledge Cousin brings to the medium is exceptional. Plus, his soothing narration and the distinctive sound of Cousins’ own voice is something I could listen to all day. It is both refreshing and indulgent to experience the work of someone who lives and breathes cinema as Mark Cousins does.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.