Reporting from the Telluride Film Festival.

It opens with him in bed. Mark Cousins loves movies. He loves looking at movies, talking about movies, and making movies. He’s one of cinema’s greatest enthusiasts, so to find him turning the camera on in bed feels natural. It’s as if he just woke up with an idea that won’t wait.

That’s one part of why Cousins is making a movie from his bed—there is an urgent matter at hand that can wait no longer. Tomorrow he will have surgery on his left eye. The operation is to repair his lens, but there is always the chance that it will go awry and leave him with less sight than before. That’s a horrible fate for someone who lives so visually. So for the first time in a long time, Cousins uses his bed as a shield, a sanctuary from which he thinks about looking. Can one see enough? Can one see too much?

Drawing from his 2017 book, The Story of Looking, Cousins’ latest documentary is one half cinematic adaptation of his book and one half cinematic diary written with images. Cousins is probably best known for his cinematic essays: The Story of Film and Women Make Film: A New Road Trip Through Cinema, but he is also a prolific filmmaker of city symphonies and cinematic diaries. Here he melds the two, using his personal experience to better understand familiar ones. What did Ingrid Bergman see between making Casablanca in 1942 and Autumn Sonata in 1978? In both films, her face is photographed in similar positions: looking toward the same left side of the frame, with those same enchanting eyes as the focal point. Only time is the difference. What is the story of her looking? What did Gustave Courbet see when he painted his self-portrait? And why did Ray Charles pity those cursed with sight?

The Story of Looking runs a brief 90-minutes and exists somewhere between an engaging film lecture and a 2 a.m. talk with a close friend after just enough drinks to make things philosophical. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly for me.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Story of Looking (2021)
Directed by Mark Cousins
Based on the book The Story of Looking
Produced by Mary Bell, Adam Dawtrey
Distributor TBA, Not rated, Running time 90 minutes, Release date TBA.