'History of Film' spans 100 years, 24,000 miles at Berkshire Museum

Thursday November 22, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Mark Cous ins escaped to the movie house.

"Seeing films in a cinema made me feel safe, cozy and free," he said -- so much so that he devoted his life to film, becoming a director and film historian/critic.

To honor his beloved art form, Cousins created "The Story of Film: An Odyssey," a time-traveling journey through world cinema, which The Berkshire Museum's Little Cin ema is screening in installments at 7 p.m. every Thursday through Dec. 13, except for Thanksgiving.

The Berkshire Museum aims to bring people together "for experiences that spark creativity and innovative thinking by making inspiring educational connections among art, history and natural science," said Craig Lan glois, The Little Cinema's film programmer. "Few media, if any, do it better than screening film in a theater."

"The Story of Film" opens with the invention of moving pictures and closes with the multibillion-dollar globalized digital industry of today. It examines the evolution of film as an art form by focusing on the artistic vision and innovations of exceptional pioneers of the craft.

The project didn't start out as a film at all.

"I was inspired by E.H. Gombrich's book ‘The Story of Art,' a single, accessible history of art. I thought there should be such a book about film, and so I wrote it," Cousins said.

When his producer suggested making a film out of it, they ended up with the 151 2-hour documentary.

"I knew that it had to be passionately international, include lots of the women directors who are usually excluded from film history, and be a kind of love letter to the movies," Cousins said. "Since so much of our popular media focuses on box office, stardom, etc., and since these things are merely secondary matters when it comes to the art of cinema, I decided to take as my thread the question of innovation: Who were the people who refreshed the great medium of film with new images, ideas, storylines, styles?"

From Thomas Edison's laboratory in New Jersey to Hitchcock's London, from post-war Rome to modern-day Mumbai, he covers all the key points in the history of film, including classic clips and interviews with filmmakers and actors such as Stanley Donen, Kyoko Kagawa, Lars Von Trier, Wim Wenders, Abbas Kiarostami, Bernardo Bertolucci, Jane Campion and Claudia Cardinale.

The Little Cinema started showing the series in mid-October, but the next two screenings promise to be especially fascinating. The Nov. 29 installment will examine the influence of multiplexes and Asian mainstream film along with the power of political protest in film.

On Dec. 6, the audience will explore world cinema in Africa, Asia and Latin America and look at the American independent films of the 1990s.

"The multiplex and Asian mainstream section shows that even the most populist films of the ‘70s had great innovation within them," Cousins said. "A film like ‘Sholay,' seen by more people than any other film ever made, was written by an Urdu poet, for example."

The following installment "deals with that brilliant moment before the coming of digital which I call the Last Days of Celluloid and looks in particular at the extraordinary films from Iran," Cousins said.

The documentary will discuss the advent of digital film too.

"We talk about the digital revolution as, in the late 1920s, people talked about the sound evolution, but the fact is that the art of cinema hasn't changed much as a result of these upheavals," Cousins said. "It's still a fascinating mix of reality and dreams. What is changing is how the industry is organized -- its business plan."

The documentary offers the same thing to both casual movie lovers and self-professed film experts, Cousins said: "a tasting menu of great films from around the globe."

"In the digital age," he added, "when so many films are available on DVD, Bluray, YouTube, demand, iTunes, etc., many people are overwhelmed with choice. They would appreciate some guidance on what to see, a kind of road map."

"Film is a universal language, spanning age, dialect and culture," Langlois said. "One could argue that film was and still is the dominant means of publicly displayed creativity in the 20th and 21st centuries."


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