A Personal Journey Through Cinema History with Thomas Pollock does pretty much what it says on the tin – and you do, overall, get a healthy grasp of the medium’s history. It’s a little like flicking through the chronological pages of an easily accessible and clear introduction to the decades of cinema book. And that’s a huge book, you betcha. Pollock’s narration is concise and informative throughout, and also whiffs of a natural passion and enthusiasm for the whole spectrum of cinema. This kid knows his shit – I say kid because he notes when talking about Toy Story that it was the year he was born. Huh, younglings. A lot of this celluloid splendor on show you may already know, and many of those old clips of the train arriving and the face in the moon, even the social connotations of the likes of Birth of a Nation, all classic, iconic imprints in our viewing psyche, attracting children and adults alike to engulf themselves in the wonder of the movies.
When not editing, writing, and directing, Pollock shows up in front of the camera every now and again, in fact quite lot, almost like a Mastermind contestant, or a classic armchair story-teller. In a way, of course, the film-maker is telling a story. A very important and abridged one. Although he does make an appearance frequently to break the pace, Pollock thankfully keeps these interruptions short. The documentary works so well by just allowing us to see these marvelous, classic moments of film footage and get lost in the true history of the movies, we often don’t need the break of flow. His discourse is a confident one though, and he pulls it off. I’m no expert (as I need to remind myself), but personally I would have been just as distracted had he been wandering around in these isolated moments. That is perhaps more my impatience than his technical fault – nothing to cry about.
It’s a fine film, the simplicity and clarity of such a visual document could serve well to educate those poor lonely young souls that don’t know about the back catalog of cinema. I feel, as a manic film buff and a father, I have a responsibility to teach my own little daughter (four in August) and baby boy about the whole realm of cinema and it’s incredibly, timeless history – so these non-fiction accounts provide a welcome need-to-know account. The film-maker also incorporates (or drops in casually) the introduction of the Academy Awards, the establishing genre films like horror and the gangster pictures, as well as the emergence of color and sound, and feeds essential cinema factoids like that Midnight Cowboy was the only X-rated film to win Best Picture. What do you mean you didn’t know that?
Pollock’s depth of knowledge is admirable – his vast range on the YouTube channel provides bags of evidence for this – just watch his Blu-ray / DVD collection videos. He sometimes knows when to shut up too, allowing us to watch Bonnie and Clyde get harrowingly shot up, for instance. He can be forgiven for not compromising running time in place of hundreds of our favorite scenes just playing in their entirety. One of my very own personal favorites One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is highlighted, proving we share very similar views – though it is hard to argue with such masterpieces. And a worthy mention of Victoria (only released this year in the UK) was well appreciated by this particular viewer, though I disagree more with his critique this time. It demonstrates that Pollock is not afraid to throw in the odd negative criticism from time to time too. The time flies by, and you admire the wonders of the film world in front of your eyes, I waited to see if he would talk about this great movie or that great movie – he can’t of course fit it all in as he says himself at one point he can’t ramble for hours. But he gets the basics in, and has obviously put a lot of time and effort into this project.
Even any extremely minor and throw-away flaws, it hardly takes chunks out of the enjoyment of this intellectual documentary, Pollock clearly has the gusto for future ventures well worth the wait no doubt. He also demonstrates a constructive and free-flowing way of assembling and editing a film, both with visuals and audio. He states on a number of occasions that he is a film-maker, while we are happily not allowed to forget he is a film lover above that (his big love for Asian cinema is refreshingly apparent). If you share any of this sort of zest for any form of cinema then you don’t have much reason to nit-pick in all fairness. That there is little-to-nothing on the extensive French cinema is more my own petty peeve than a dig at the production itself. A documentary that looks at the French New Wave, more than a mere mention of the glory that is Amelie, and the marvels that have come out of the Cannes Film Festival over the decades next please, Thomas, if you don’t mind.
A Personal Journey Through Cinema History with Thomas Pollock is released on July 29th.