Film Review: The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)

This British documentary directed and narrated by Mark Cousins looks at the history of film making around the world starting from 1888, looking at them from the point of view of the social context of films, the times in which they were made, what they were trying convey, their innovations, the techniques that were used, and how they influenced each other. The scope of the documentary is of the entire history of film over the entire globe, and includes explorations of the work of lesser-known (to me at least) directors, including those in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The documentary lasts 15 hours in total that are spread over 15 episodes. It is interspersed liberally with clips from many films in order to make its points. Despite its length, some selectivity is of course essential. Cousins focuses on the creative aspects of films and thus the work of directors and, to a lesser extent, screenwriters and cinematographers. Cousins is clearly partial to the realist school of filmmaking and to those directors who took risks and made experimental films that pushed the boundaries of the craft or showed their societies in a realistic and hence unflattering light and thus risked repercussions from their governments. Such directors are less well-known outside the cognoscenti because their films were usually not box office hits. You will find few mentions of the big Hollywood blockbusters unless they used some innovative techniques or are used to contrast with more realistic depictions.

The documentary is presented largely chronologically, except when jumping from one era to another in order to show connections. I think that the more attuned you are to the aesthetic of cinema, the more this will appeal to you. Even though I am somewhat of a low-brow film viewer, I still found the documentary engrossing.

Here’s the trailer.


  1. seachange says

    I found the trailer incomprehensible. Hype, consent manufacturing, and communication in the one-to-many way is all deeply part of nature of filmmaking.
    Filmmaking is always about money because that’s conceptually what money also is.

    Now it could be because I live in Los Angeles and am soaking in this particular dish of palmolive with everyone else who lives here, that I can’t hear what he’s talking about.

  2. crivitz says

    Highly recommend this film series as well as Cousins’ 2018 film, The Eyes Of Orson Welles, which is done in the same conversational style that I found very relatable and easier for people like me who are not all that well-schooled in film history.

  3. Silentbob says

    Caution: Boring old person’s anecdote ahead…

    I watched this with my wife when it came out and it is indeed riveting.

    The anecdote is that the presenter keeps referring to an Indian man we had never heard of as, “the most famous actor in the world” in his lilting Irish accent.

    So it became a running gag amongst us for a time to call random people, ” the most fayyymoss uctor in wuurrlld”.

    So if you watch this and hear that phrase think of us. 😉

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