Soldiers of cinema

Two docs from Mark Cousins explore the eternal allure of the moving image

Courtesy: Creative Scotland

Unless you’re a real film buff, the name Jeremy Thomas might not mean anything to you. But it should. He is one of the producers behind some of the more acclaimed (1987’s The Last Emperor), the more audacious (2010’s 13 Assassins) and the more salacious (1996’s Crash) movies of the last 40 years. 

A true independent, Thomas is at once the progeny of British cinema royalty — his father and uncle were behind the immensely popular Doctor and Carry On series — and a punk subversive whose interest in sex, politics and automobiles shaped the movies he produced just as corporatization was beginning to take hold.

This makes Thomas an ideal subject for the movie-mad documentarian Mark Cousins. His latest, The Storms of Jeremy Thomas, is a delightful and informative road film through the life and career of the British producer.

The vehicle for this exploration is Thomas’ annual 850-mile, five-day road trip from England to the south of France for the Cannes Film Festival. Thomas loves to drive. Makes sense: In front of every driver is a large rectangle screen where one views the world — a movie screen on wheels. 

These are the kinds of analogies Cousins excels at. He’s on the journey with Thomas in the passenger seat, playing the audience’s co-pilot through his subject’s biography, filmography and the conversations the two have on the road.

Cousins weaves clips from Thomas’ movies throughout Storms like memories. His life and work are inseparable, a kind of lifelong infatuation — a kinder word than obsession — where the line between reality’s end and cinema’s beginning is constantly blurred.

Thomas, who was 72 when Storms was made, isn’t slowing down. A cancer survivor, he has entered a phase of life where reflection is a welcome thing. Cousins, a prolific filmmaker, uses Thomas’ life and work as another entry point to explore how the movies we love become a kind of oxygen we need to survive.

The Storms of Jeremy Thomas is an enlightening portrait of a producer — the type of creative often overlooked or derided in the cinematic firmament — and an engaging reminder that the movies that made us are only as strong as those who made the movies.

As you might guess from his latest offering, Cousins loves a good road trip. It forms the foundation for several of his movies, be they city symphonies or cinematic histories. And his magnum opus, 2011’s The Story of Film: An Odyssey, has finally been released on Blu-ray along with his 2021 follow-up, The Story of Film: A New Generation.

Available now from Music Box Films, The Complete Story of Film is a grand and sweeping exploration of cinematic innovation. It’s nearly 19 hours long, discusses more than 600 movies and features 30-plus filmmakers from all over the globe.

Cousins’ essayist documentary is neither history nor survey — though you could certainly watch it that way. It’s an exploration of how writers, directors, actors, producers, cinematographers, editors, et al. crafted the cinematic medium into one of the most intoxicating art forms of our time. It displays an understanding of the global and political forces that shape and mold the art we make — and celebrates how that art shapes and molds us.

The Complete Story of Film is a must for anyone interested in the moving image. Cousins is a master at bringing the cinematic canon in conversation with the films and filmmakers long forgotten or never discovered, and you will find a lifetime’s worth of movies to watch and love here. It’s a triumph and one you can now have on hand for multiple trips into one of the greatest stories of our time. 

ON SCREEN: The Storms of Jeremy Thomas is in limited release. The Complete Story of Film is available now on Blu-ray from Music Box Films.