Like life, film never stops changing.
With STAGECOACH (1939), John Ford introduced a new cinematic vision using deep staging and deep focus “that allowed the audience to choose where to look” on the screen.
This innovation, according to Mark Cousins, creator of THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY, changed film forever, influencing Orson Welles to take “deep staging as far as it could go” in creating his masterpiece, CITIZEN KANE (1941). Film had never looked like this before.
In the opening of Part 3 of THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY, we see a quick newsreel clip of Hitler and Mussolini sharing a lighter moment. The voiceover provided by Cousins recognizes that these two men wreaked havoc on the world, and then just like that, we’re off to “Post-War Cinema.” Maybe film of the war years is a separate story for another time.
Nonetheless, the saga of THE STORY OF FILM is a compelling commentary on the constant evolution of film, a reflection of the ever-changing human experience. There has been war. Barriers are going up. Some barriers are coming down.
After the war, the Italian cinema made an indelible mark on filmmaking, with its “rubble” films, presenting the stark, bleak reality of post-war destruction, changing the nature of beauty in cinema, from soft focus romance to dark and dreary reality. The Italian neo-realists, per Cousins, created “cinema that features the boring bits of life,” as opposed to Hitchcock who said that “cinema is life but without the boring bits.”
The convergence of new directorial styles and gloomy world views gave us a Hollywood that began emphasizing film noir, with films like SCARLET STREET (1945) by Fritz Lang; GUN CRAZY (1950) by Joseph Lewis; THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) by Ida Lupino, Hollywood’s only female film noir director; and the pitch-perfect noir classic, THE THIRD MAN (1949) by Carol Reed.
As much as noir became the Hollywood norm during this post-war period, the American film industry still created vibrant stunners such as SINGING IN THE RAIN (1952) and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951), ensuring audiences that joy could still be found in this neo-realist world.
And while the brooding vision of the post-war years went on, borders were redrawn and decolonialization was happening. As a result, the faces of world cinema came to the forefront in Egypt, India, China, Mexico, Britain, and Japan. In the 1950s, the human story went global, and in the film world, the emphasis moved to grand melodramas about the perils of life, love, lust, and survival.
David Lean delivered big drama with GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946). And American movies certainly had their own glossy tortured tales like Nicholas Ray’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and JOHNNY GUITAR (1954). The world saw other groundbreaking weepers, such as PATHER PANCHALI (1955) by Satyajit Ray and DONA BARBARA (1943) by Fernando Fuentes and Miguel Delgado.
As with each segment of THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY, my list of must-see films expands. I’m starting with CAIRO STATION (1958), with Youssel Chahine, which Cousins taga as “the first great African/Middle Eastern film,” and a revisit to the ultimate sexy melodrama of the 1950s, ...AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (1956) by Roger Vadim and starring Brigitte Bardot.
THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011) is a 15-part, 15-hour documentary exploring the convergence of technology, business, intelligence, and vision that has created the remarkable and powerful art of cinema. Music Box Films is distributing this new documentary, and Chicago’s Music Box Theater is conducting a multi-week screening of this ambitious effort. The DVD will be released in November 2012. You will want to add it to your collection.