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The First Movie

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Mark Kermode | 10:10 UK time, Tuesday, 13 December 2011

People are always asking me for ideas of what to give a cinema lover for Christmas. Normally it's a difficult question to this answer but this year I have a really good suggestion...

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Hear Mark Kermode review the week's new films every Friday from 2pm on BBC Radio 5 live. Kermode & Mayo's Film Review is also available as a free podcast to download and keep.

 

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It sounds like a great little film, but am I the only person who can't pinpoint the moment I fell in love with cinema?

    Everybody always talks about one movie or one moment that made them realise how much they loved film, and I always feel slightly left out because I don't have one. For me it was just a gradual thing.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'll be sure to check First Movie out, if no-one follows your recommendation and buys it me for Christmas.

    I wondered, Dr K, what you made of Mark Cousin's History of Cinema? Or did you avoid it because it was on TV?

    I have to confess I found it fascinating to start with - I am a sucker for early movies and there was a lot about early world cinema that I was entirely unaware of and that might inspire me to hunt down more old films - but, increasingly, I found it less interesting as the series progressed. There seemed to less useful analysis, more interviews with directors and actors who (whilst they might make great films) were pretty dull interviewees and a tendency to hold up portentous art-house films and ignore mainstream cinema, even if innovative. Any thoughts?

  • Comment number 3.

    You could do worse, I know people who still confuse you with Lamarr.

    I saw Mark Cousins introduce and Q&A this at our local Picturehouse. The screening I went to in the day time was meant for a school group, but hadn't been advertised as such, so I was almost the only adult there. One of the other adults runs a program to get kids in the UK to make their own films in school. This made his Q&A even more apt.

    The film is great, and his work here is spot on. It is achievement particularly because of the conditions and logistical nightmares he had doing the project in Iraq.

    On other occasions I've found Cousins to be between precious and annoying, although I respect his opinions and depth of knowledge. I was so taken with the film I didn't ask Cousins whether he was responsible for the review in Time Out that led me to Jan Švankmajer's Faust, the most tediously repetitive slice of avant garde surrealism anyone has ever had to suffer through.

    I'm hoping the DVD has more of the stuff shot by the kids. Both Cousins film, and those of his brat pack within the film, are gentle lyrical and poetic. Perhaps I prefer his film-making to his criticism.

  • Comment number 4.

    I would love to own "The First Movie", but unfortunately it's not available in the U.S. And Mark, your book isn't available in the U.S either, which is really disappointing, it looks like a great read.

  • Comment number 5.

    I was lucky enough to see "The First Movie" at last year's Shetland film festival and for me it was the best film of the festival, which is saying something because Linda and Mark had picked a marvellous programme of films for us. What stood out for me, as well as the images (which are beautiful), is the sound of Mark Cousins voice doing the narration over the documentary. It's like poetry. Never mind buying a copy for a friend as a present: buy yourself a copy - you won't be disappointed.

  • Comment number 6.

    Plugging your own film?

  • Comment number 7.

    Not to be confused with 'My Cousin's First Movie' - which is an entirely different sort of film found on less prestigious websites.

    Mark Cousins will always be the stepping stone between Alex Cox and Mark Kermode for me. I'll have to sort of agree with Poster No.2 - I too found The Story of Film - An Odyssey very involving to start with but the last 5 or 6 episodes lost me a little bit (especially after he rushed right over my favourite period in Hollywood cinema '75 to '85, perhaps feeling that period has had way too much attention already.) Well done to Channel 4 (More4) for showing it in a regular slot week after week. More like this please - how about a lovely big documentary from that other Mark?

    That Lamarr really knows his stuff about music.

  • Comment number 8.

    Agreed - The Story of Film was so much more engaging than any of the thousands of Film History lectures given in Film Schools today.

    No one can know EVERYTHING about film as a whole but you know I admire him for trying!

  • Comment number 9.

    Mark Cousins' knowledge of film is breath taking and his History of Cinema is overall pretty impressive but to be honest there is a serious flaw to the whole thing: the voiceover. I really don't mean to be mean but to be perfectly honest, I found his voice and the way he speaks to be unbelievably irritating and affected. I thought it was just me but when two of my friends sat down with me to watch one episode, they both (without any prompting whatsoever), commented on how annoying they found the narrator's voice. Pity...

  • Comment number 10.

    Mark (whichever one you are again), you are a genius. Immediately on seeing this I knew my brother-in-law would like it (and then hopefully let me borrow it) so within 5 minutes had bought it online.
    It sounds fascinating and I'm sure it will appeal to anyone who has truly fallen in love with cinema.
    As for 'The Story of Film...' I saw adverts and had to catch up on the series. I would agree that, being a fan of early cinema, I found the initial programmes interesting and did feel it lulled a little. I have less interest in some genres (Indian cinema for example) but found that bearable since it gave the subject context.
    As a whole I have found it generally engaging and I believe it has turned me from someone who enjoys watching films into someone who can also look a little deeper, notice the cinematography, the composure, use of lenses etc. and if I wish, begin to appraise the film intellectually. It certainly is a heavy visual tome but then I see it as more of a work of academe than pop history.
    It has even got me thinking about making films (which nowadays is almost exclusively done with a nod to the past). Being as though I take still photography and have a friend who studied film, I really hope something becomes of it!

  • Comment number 11.

    RE: @9 zampano wrote:
    "...to be honest there is a serious flaw to the whole thing: the voiceover. I really don't mean to be mean but to be perfectly honest, I found his voice and the way he speaks to be unbelievably irritating and affected…"

    Sorry to say it but myself and a number of friends and colleagues completely agree. A fascinating, well researched, written and produced series render almost unwatchable due to Cousin's inappropriate use of his own voice -a terrible narration. He's clearly talented but a more discipled production would have jettisoned this in favour a more involving, less dour V/O.

    I'm sure the budget would have been pretty tight for this series but a cameraman might have been nice. A series on the moving image should at least be nicely shoot.

    It's not personal. It's just what works. Having said that, I will be giving 'The First Movie' a go as it looks genuinely great.

  • Comment number 12.

    I haven't watched the clip yet, but wanted to say I'm thrilled this film has appeared on here.

    It was on late one night on Channel 4 and it absolutely blew me away. I can't recommend it highly enough, it's one of the best films I've ever seen. I can honestly say it got me back into film. Hyperbole much? Really, I don't want to give anything away but the makeshift cinema scene is something I'll never forget.

    I need to check out the History of Cinema show. At uni I studied Film, and there was a module course called The Fantastic, largely about horror. Would love to see Kermode make a series around that.

  • Comment number 13.

    Does anyone know if the Story of Film is going to get a DVD release? I managed to miss the entire thing (Don't ask, it's a long story) and only the very last few episodes are on 4od.

  • Comment number 14.

    Surely a great film to buy anyone who loves cinema would be Cinema Paradiso. But then again, anyone who truly loves cinema probably has a copy already!

  • Comment number 15.

    hmmm this is the thing... I tried watching his story of cinema, but I found his voice so grating that I had to stop. If ever there's a case of the book being better than the film. Maybe it'd be better with subtitles, or dubbed by someone else.

  • Comment number 16.

    Mark, thanks so much for this blog post. I remember listening to your review of "the first movie" when it came out on your radio show, and have been racking my brains for the title of it ever since!

  • Comment number 17.

    Annnnnnnd again, witout all those typos! What am I like?

    RE: @9 zampano wrote:
    "...to be honest there is a serious flaw to the whole thing: the voiceover. I really don't mean to be mean but to be perfectly honest, I found his voice and the way he speaks to be unbelievably irritating and affected…"

    Sorry to say it but myself and a number of friends and colleagues completely agree. A fascinating, well researched, written and produced series rendered almost unwatchable due to Cousin's inappropriate use of his own voice -a terrible narration. He's clearly talented but a more disciplined production would have jettisoned this in favour a more involving, less dour V/O.

    I'm sure the budget would have been pretty tight for this series but a cameraman might have been nice. A series on the moving image should at least be nicely shot.

    It's not personal. It's just what works. Having said that, I will be giving 'The First Movie' a go as it looks genuinely great.

  • Comment number 18.

    #9 zampano

    THANK YOU! God I thought it was just me. Clearly he doesn't talk like that to his friends and family, so why does he put it on for us? The words 'pretentious pillock' spring to mind. Some people just do not know how to do a voiceover and some people don't have the balls to tell them they're rubbish at it. It's like an audio book: if your voice is wrong for it, you'll make even the greatest piece of literature sound terrible.

  • Comment number 19.

    Gutted that I missed this in the cinema as was enthralled by guest appearance of Marc Cousins on the Kermode show about this film earlier this year. Gutted further in ploughing the street of Edinburgh today to no avail in finding any outlet selling this. OK can order on Amazon but want to purchase copy as gift as well as for me. Given high quality of documentary being produced nowadays shameful that stores bypass selling them. Ta

  • Comment number 20.

    @ above collectively bashing Cousins voice -- having seen him live, his voice isn't all that different, a little less mannered at speed. Somehow in "The First Movie" it works, but elsewhere his cadence does sometimes seem to be straining for meaning which can sound pretentious, and I've found it cloying, too at times. On the other hand, it seems a bit churlish to suggest he shouldn't present his own programs. If you think of all the telly historians and popular science presenters, not all have voices made for radio and faces for TV. I think we're a bit inured to received pronunciation, telly docs keeping those equity lovies employed between acting gigs, if we hear anything at all regional, we must be watching big brother or eurotrash. He's an acknowledged expert in his field not a terrorist needing to be "voiced" by an actor.

    Cousins clearly knows his stuff, and his Story of Film is a massive undertaking, and bears a visit, whether you agree with all his takes on things or not. It's worth forgiving him his vocal apparatus, and his sometimes stilted arguments.

  • Comment number 21.

    I watched this in the cinema upon Mark's recommendation and had the unexpected pleasure of attending a screening with a post-film Q&A with Mr Cousins, who was just as charming and quietly passionate in person as he is in The First Movie and his remarkable Story of Film series.

    Great film and a great voice!

  • Comment number 22.

    The Film that changed my life was Blade Runner. I saw it at my grandparents house when I was 8. I remember very clearly the effect it had on me. How I loved the development of the characters and the stunning visuals. It was like watching a painting by Turner. It still remains to this day that the original cut of Blade Runner holds a very special place in my heart. I know that most fans of blade runner hate the original cut with the narration but to me it perfect. To me its like a futuristic Neo chandler film, I still cant help myself watching any cut of it when it comes on. I understand people may have problems with it but to its the perfecr experience of cinema and reason film can be art and menaingful.

  • Comment number 23.

    I can remember seeing many well known popcorn films in my youth that made me look up in awe at the worlds that could be created on the screen, but the first film that I saw that made me sit up and take film seriously as a medium capable of intelligent political efficacy was a little known British film called 'Friendship's Death' (1987).

    I wonder if you have seen this one, Dr Kermode?

    Written and directed by the academic Peter Wollen, it starred a then very young Tilda Swinton and Bill Paterson. The film had the effect of bringing me down to earth from the inter-planetary starship duels of the Hollywood factory and said "hey, science-fiction, and film more broadly, can be economic, minimalist, wordy, as well as have a political heart beat and, more crucially, be profoundly interesting and engaging without having to be an over-ripe space opera with tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars thrown at it."

    Thank you Peter Wollen. I'll take you over Michael Bay any day.

  • Comment number 24.

    @zampano - love the name by the way! I find Mark Cousins' voice a bit much as well, though I wouldn't necessarily say he's pretentious. You'd have to be a nice enough sort to make a sweet a film as this.

    Could have done without the rolled up eyelids though, yuck! Un chien andalou, Zombie Flesh Eaters, A Clockwork Orange... there's simply no level of eye abuse I can withstand :(

  • Comment number 25.

    I am 42 and I remember there were two movies in the mid 70's which entranced me as a child and started my great love of cinema, the first was an at home tv movie experience of watching Singing in the Rain with my whole family sat in front of the tv watching too. My first magical cinema experience was a British sci-fi film called The First Men in the Moon. I was totally entranced by these Victorian gentlemen apparently visiting the moon and fighting monsters. I became an avid fan of films from that point on and have such fond memories of the BBC2 saturday night horror double bill and the (Tyne Tees region) Fear on friday horror movies. They were the highlight of my week as a child.

 

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