Film: Story of Children and Film, A (2012)

February 3, 2014 | By

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Film: Very Good / DVD Transfer:  n/a / DVD Extras: n/a

Label: n/a / Region: n/a / Released: n/a

Genre: Documentary / Film History

Synopsis: Examination of how children have been portrayed in movies by international filmmakers.

Special Features: n/a




“Movies are like kids. Kids are like movies.”


For those who managed the long haul of Mark Cousins’ excellent The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011) mini-series, the good news is his related doc does not run 15 hours, but it is a similarly structured visual essay in which the author and filmmaker examines how children have appeared in film, and more importantly, how their behaviour has been captured by filmmakers.

With an eye again towards the neglected, the marginalized, and the wholly unknown (to Western audiences, anyways), Cousins steers his focus towards international films from the silents to the late nineties, gliding between Czechoslovakia, Iran, Africa’s Gold Coast, Albania, Britain, Denmark, Soviet Russia, Japan, and Korea (to cite a few of the represented nations).

There are several American films that pop up – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), and Shirley Temple in Curly Top (1934) – and they symbolize the progression of children as performers towards somewhat naturalistic characters during a 60 year period in the U.S., while the rest of the world seemed to be more comfortable in building whole stories around alienation, loneliness, loss of family, social class, children assuming the role of adults in fragmented families, and sometimes taking care of brutalized parents.

Cousins’ framing device is footage of his niece and nephew playing with a toy set in his living room As they become acclimatized to the camera, their natural behaviour – the classic schizophrenic swerving from wariness to amusement, bickering to stagy silliness – unfolds within a locked shot, and Cousins applies these personal extracts as contrast material for his thesis of children in film. It works, but some viewers may feel this production, which lacks the globe-trotting (and more expensive) footage of his epic series (not to mention interviews) is a more economical work.

It may be, but one suspects the doc’s concept stemmed from an idea as it happened during a family visit, and Cousins’ encyclopedic mind quickly jotted down further targets prior to research, and mapping out the film’s structure. He’s extremely adept in translating analytical prose to film, and distilling observations to simplified yet complimentary narration, and using affecting visual examples that allow viewers to follow his arguments as he flips back and forth through a multitude of film clips.

He’s also got an expert eye and knows when his visual essay needs to break free from clips and his static apartment to the stunning Scottish Highlands. It’s not a frivolous or contrived trek to the mountains – every shot in Cousins’ narrative has a purpose – but for casual film fans, his subject matter may seem a little too niche, and measured in pacing. There’s about two points where it appears the doc seems to be winding down but continues for an other 10-20 minutes, but those familiar with his work, mining international film as a means to rescue fine works from western ignorance, will be delighted by new finds in an age when some video labels have applied premium pricing on their home video offerings, and fears of physical media’s slow demise have isolated many of these works to domestic releases in Europe and Asia alone.

Being rare films, it’s also a treat to see clips on the big screen – their impact is closer to their makers’ intention than compressed on a TV screen – and viewers are advised to bring along a pad & pen to jot down those titles they’ll invariably want to seek out.

Perhaps the nations most represented within Cousins essay are Iran, Japan, and Soviet Russia, and with a closing dedication to Iran’s Jafar Panahi, it’s no surprise he has a deep affinity for the filmmaker’s gift for extracting natural performances and crafting unpretentious characters.

Hopefully when A Story of Children and Film materializes on home video in North America, it’ll come with some supplements – ideally, personal thoughts by Cousins on the doc’s genesis, and his regard for a few of the excerpted films.

He’s an outright optimist when it comes to film, genuinely believing we’re in an age of great filmmaking – a surprising statement when it’s easy for critics to spin off another column or industry report about film being in the crapper as technology and the industry veer towards shallowness for purely financial gain.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan


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