Tag Archives: Mark Cousins

Stockholm My Love: an intimate City Symphony

Mark Cousins’ new film is a City Symphony, he says, citing many of the classic early examples of this particularly silent genre, including Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, Rien que les heures, but also later, more complicated urban hymns such as Woody Allen’s Manhattan, or Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her. I’ve added the director’s credits in the later works because those films move away from the collective City Symphony format, offering a distinctive filmmaker’s own view of a place, adding in a story those focuses on individuals instead of the modern, urban mass. So does this one.

Cousins’ Stockholm My Love, like those films, breaks some of the ‘rules’ of the City Symphony: there’s a single subjective perspective, and a fictional narrative. Our guide to the Swedish capital is Alwa, an architect and academic, pacing around her home city while she comes to terms with a traumatic event that took place on these streets a year before. Alwa is played by Neneh Cherry, a starry figure, who nevertheless offers a restrained, often quite still performance. It doesn’t distract us from our view of the city that a famous singer is standing in front of it. This is not her film, so much as it is Cousins’.

There is sound too, although this film was largely shot silent, with Cousins coaching Cherry live through her performance like Griffith and Pickford, sometimes, he says, even holding her hand during the close-ups. At the Q&A after the screening I saw at BFI Southbank, he quoted Fellini, saying that he made a visual film, and then added a radio play on top of it.

In the soundtrack there is music, three sets of it. New, gorgeous, tracks from Cherry, with lyrics by Cousins; folk songs written by Benny Andersson (from Abba); and Swedish classical music by Franz Berwald. Most notably, though, there is a voice-over. Alwa describes the city around her, talking directly to her father (who may have passed away), to a man called Gunnar who is linked to the traumatic event a year ago, and to the city itself. Cherry speaks naturally, sympathetically, and quietly but full of compassion. However, this narration belongs almost wholly to Cousins. He has such a distinct written and spoken style (you’ll remember his epic cinema documentary The Story of Film) that it is impossible not to recognise him in the rhythm of these words. Writing about Stockholm My Love, I almost feel that I am echoing his rises and falls. Cousins-speak has seeped into my brain.

Continue reading Stockholm My Love: an intimate City Symphony

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The Story of Film – and Orphans of the Storm, September 2011

Orphans of the Storm (1921)
Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Mark Cousins’s epic 15-part documentary The Story of Film: an Odyssey begins this Saturday, at 9.15pm on More4. This promises to be an excellent series, with Cousins roaming far and wide to put together a history of cinematic innovations and achievements. The early episodes obviously hold the most interest for us, and people who have seen the first instalment tell me it’s a must-see. Episode one explores the birth of the medium, from the development of techniques such as close-ups to the first movie stars and the early picture palaces. Episode two takes us into 1920s Hollywood and the golden era of comedy, with Keaton and Chaplin.

Filmed in the buildings where the first movies were made, it shows that ideas and passion have always driven film, more than money and marketing.

The series’s scope is wider than just American films, though, and if you had any doubt as to whether Cousins’s heart is in the right place, check out his new tattoo:

I know what you’re thinking – it would be great if Channel 4 could schedule some silent films to accompany these early episodes. What’s the point of telling people about Chaplin, Griffith, Dreyer and Eisenstein if we can’t watch the movies themselves? Well, there is a glimmer of hope. In the week following the first episode, Film4 will be showing Griffith’s French Revolution epic Orphans of the Storm (1921), starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish. The film will be screened at 00.50am on Tuesday 6 September (set your video) and again at 11am on Thursday 8 September.

A little update, courtesy of a helpful commenter below – Film4 will also be showing Battleship Potemkin later in the month – 19th and 22nd September to be precise. More of this please, Film4!

Meanwhile, if you’re enjoying what Mark Cousins has to say about silent cinema, and you live in or near London, watch this space for news of screenings with live music in the capital.

The Story of Film: an Odyssey screens on Saturday nights on More4 and is repeated throughout the week.

I tip my hat to @LondonMovieLoon on Twitter for alerting me to the screening of Orphans of the Storm. Much appreciated.