By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The documentary, A Story of Children and Film might be better off named The Role of Children in Cinema, and it can easily become a textbook for the next cinema studies course at a university campus if Mark Cousins, Irish director and occasional critic, wanted it. He shares to the world his excellent knowledge of this subgenre.
In Cousins’ video essay, he delves into a nearly complete history starting from Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921) to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and wraps it around his own little video shoot of his visiting neice and nephew playing with a marble toy set. The juxtapositions he makes are interesting. When he delves into actual cinema, a few movies, like Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) is missed for good reason – it’s an adaption of a book. But with more than a century’s worth of movies to sift through, this narrator successfully finds the movies from many countries (25 in fact) and representative of different eras to make his point with. He also uses it in a compelling juxtaposition when he includes footage of his neice and nephew visiting his flat and playing with a marble run.
Certain movies, like Ohikkoshi (1993) is revisited more often than any other film because of its strong tale about how Renko is trying to understand why her parents separated. Another movie like Willow and Wind (1999) is spellbinding, with a flair for tension when the plot is simply about a boy required to restore a broken window at his schoolhouse. His tenacity is captivating. For some viewers, they may want to see this Iranian film in full. But for North Americans more acquainted with the history of American cinema, some viewers will particularly appreciate how the themes of loss in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) are likened to that of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid. Even a few classic cartoons, namely Tom and Jerry, are mentioned. He nicely demonstrates which stories are shining examples of how isolation, brutality or consolation (for example) are seen from a child-like perspective.
Quite often, the point of view from these clips is seen from that of a child than adult. The necessity of understanding why young Razieh in White Balloon (1995) really wants to own a goldfish is perfectly reflected upon by Cousins’ narrative.
Audiences who loved Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: An Odyssey, a 15-part television documentary, will find his latest project alluring. His dry narrative may be hard for some viewers to listen to, but that’s his style. Thankfully, when this documentary releases to DVD, a pause button will be available so it can be viewed in slow measured steps. There is a lot to digest, and for a fervent student of cinema, they will be making notes, and filling up their pad in no time flat!
4 out of 5