I love Mark Cousins. It was his 90s BBC2 film show that inspired a reading of a film, what it had to say, why the camera was positioned where and what that had to say, etc. Following up the mammoth series The Story Of Film: An Odyssey, Cousins continues his unique brand of criticism with this touching documentary.
Cousins here explores the history of children on film and how they were represented. Alleviating himself from an imposing chronological style, this hopscotches through the years and back again as he takes in a wonderful mixture of mainstream and obscure films from Japan, Mexico, Senegal, Iran, Poland and more. In all 53 films from 25 countries are analysed and divided into categories, like rebellion and class. Using footage of his niece and nephew playing in their Edinburgh flat, Cousins’s musings on their lack of self-consciousness in front of the camera is used as a launch pad to discuss the clips chosen. That doesn’t always work, however.
A thousand times more approachable than Slavoj Zizek's mind-frying analyses, there's so much going for this thoughtful documentary it's difficult to pinpoint one thing. There's Cousins' enthusiasm which gives it energy. Cutting from Meet Me In St. Louis to Moonrise Kingdom gives it unpredictability. And it's touching, using clips from The Kid and ET. The clips are brief and Cousins' introduction of them even briefer, which makes it zippy. If you're anyway interested in film analysis you'll lap this up.
However, it is indicative of the malaise that concerns most (all?) film writing: the director is everything and the writer is either sidelined or ignored. Here, Cousins puts the emphasis on the colour schemes used, how the children are lit, the framing, and whether a shot is handheld or tracking, with little given to studying the unfolding act in front of the camera. Even undirected, unscripted documentary footage are down to the director. He's a director's critic - sometimes he can get so lost in the majesty of a shot he leaves the audience to bask in its awe... but what the shot has to say about the child in the frame is forgotten.
Rant over, this is a wonderful and warm documentary. Go see it.