In this article in Prospect Magazine Mark Cousins provides a whirlwind history of film theory as he explores the question-turned-tagline: Should cinema tell the truth? ( Here is a list of Cousins’ other Prospect articles. He seems like a conservative romantic, but not in a necessarily bad way.) He wonders in print whether “cinema” should focus on its own formal characteristics, personal expression, or “reality” and “real issues.” Unsurprisingly, the answer is yes.
Why couldn’t we have it all? A three-ring circus of cinematic development? Have so-called auteurs address real topics, important topics. He suggests getting David Lynch or Baz Luhrman to edit a movie of Shoah survivor interviews. “Or ask Scorsese to make a film about Rwanda. Give Jane Campion free reign [sic] on 11th September. Chantal Akerman on Le Pen. And what about the Coen brothers on Ahmedabad?” I would probably point out that this type of cinema does, in fact, exist. Scorsese’s poetic Kundun was certainly more effective (or “valuable to our future,” to use Cousins’ criteria) than the feeble Seven Years in Tibet. And of course, Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line was a gripping, formalistically innovative film actually helped overturn an innocent man’s conviction for murder. But whatever. Cousins’ argument doesn’t seem to really connect with how movies get made. (“Give Jane Campion free rein on 11th September?” If Abbas Kiarostami can jump in a van with a DV cam and make a compelling documentary about AIDS, and if a newbie can jump into a rental car wtih a DV cam and make a film about dealing with September 11 in a documentary style, what’s stopping her?) Cousins is just engaged in a the cinematic equivalent of Dr Seuss’ If I Ran the Circus. Post-script: After writing this I googled him, and he turns out to have been the director of the Edinburgh Film Festival, which I’m waiting to hear from. So I guess his ringmaster cred isn’t totally lacking. (Did I mention how much I love the circus??)