Attention film buffs!The Story of Film – TCM’s New Series

It’s an exciting time in the movies. Film festivals in Toronto, Venice, and Telluride have made headlines, new movies – from small indies to studio blockbusters – are being hailed, and the buzz is about Oscar. 

But these festivals – and film buffs everywhere – also celebrate old movies, sometimes movies that just look old, and always movies that build on what is learned from old movies. Just a couple of years ago, two films paying homage to film history fought it out for the Academy Award for Best Picture, with The Artist finally beating out Hugo for the top honour.

 

The Artist was a French-made largely-silent flick filmed in Hollywood – a tear-jerking tribute to the era of Keaton and Chaplin. It is the story of a silent movie actor whose star is eclipsed.

 

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s wonderful mélange of story lines: Is it a children’s adventure movie? Is it aimed at an adult audience as a retelling of film’s French roots? Who is that stern Monsieur Georges, who tinkered with broken toys in a train station?

He was Georges Méliès, one of the great pioneers of the new art form that was sweeping the world more than 100 years ago. Film then, in all its brilliant glory, was a new frontier, as hot as the Internet is today. The breathtaking new medium brought drama, comedy, and the world’s far-off places to an auditorium just steps from one’s home.

Méliès made one of the most memorable fantasy movies of all time in 1902. A Trip to the Moon showed adventurers voyaging to Earth’s celestial neighbour and fighting off the lunar denizens, before returning triumphantly to their home planet.

Méliès was far from alone. The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, terrified audiences by projecting moving images of a train pulling into a station. The effect was so startling that people in the theatre howled in fright and jumped out of the way, convinced the engine would plow right into them.

 

That ability to make the imagined real, tangible, something you could actually see, is just some of the magic of the movies.

 

The Turner Classic Movies channel, TCM, is one of the great custodians of that movie alchemy. It regularly shows everything from the silent classics to cutting-edge modern fare. If you never went to film school, TCM can be your movie university.

 

Now TCM is broadcasting Mark Cousins’s groundbreaking, 15-part documentary, The Story of Film: An Odyssey. This personal movie history reflects the author’s views of how film started and grew, and why it connects so viscerally and emotionally with its audiences. It is required viewing for anyone who still thinks film is not art.

 

Cousins, a film critic, took six years to make this documentary – backpacking, as he described it, around the world on the cheap. His crew was himself and his producer, John Archer.

 

Cousins tell TCM’s Robert Osborne he made the documentary because “first of all, I’m a movie lover.” The Story of Film is based on a book Cousins wrote. He says he tried to capture the language of the movies. Even as a boy, he says, “cinema took me in its embrace.” Cousins made it clear his film is not just about Hollywood; the world, he argues created the movies.

TCM will show the 15-part series for the next four months, with installments every Monday, and repeat broadcasts. The network is combining the series with 119 films from 29 countries. including movies highlighted in Cousins’s series. Some of these films are so rare they are almost never screened publicly.

 

Viewers of the TCM broadcasts will see the Lumière brothers’s terrifying train ride, they’ll soar to the moon in Georges Méliès’s cannon capsule, they’ll see the first films produced by Thomas Edison.

 

This is a monumental undertaking. TCM calls it its “most ambitious programming event ever.”

 

So, it’s time to turn out the lights, let the curtain rise, and embrace cinema as surely as it embraces you.

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