In The Story of Looking, director Mark Cousins investigates the visual world - exploring the origins, the importance and the impact of looking as he prepares for surgery to restore his own vision. This deeply personal, revealing (in more ways than one) and wonderfully inclusive documentary is thought-provoking, life affirming and surprisingly moving.
I love how Cousins makes documentaries - using expertly curated archive footage and film clips in his fascinating and gorgeously cinematic discussions. In The Story Of Looking, he narrates his journey through life’s many stages of “looking” in his signature, beautifully poetic style. (Seriously, Cousins could read a shopping list and it would feel profound).
The documentary begins with footage of Ray Charles on the Dick Cavett Show in 1972. We see Cousins watching this interview in bed. Charles is asked if he would choose to see again. “I’m not that hung up on seeing things,” he replies. This response both challenges and inspires Cousins who has always chosen to look at the world. "The visual world has been my joy and, as a filmmaker, it has been my work too." he says.
In intimate moments while in his bed, Cousins examines his relationship with looking, with glimpses and with images in his memory. He shares footage that he has captured in the past (Cousins shoots pretty much every day) and explores the power of looking, motion and emotion. All the while, he is haunted by the fact that this pivitol relationship is under threat - Cousins has a cataract and his eyesight is dimming.
The Story Of Looking is based, in part, on Cousins’s book of the same name. Looking to adapt this publication for the big screen, the director soon realised that a documentary focused solely on his book might become a tad dry. As a result, he decided to add the scenes from his bed (a filmmaking decision also made necessary by the global pandemic) and include his trepidation about his forthcoming cataract surgery. By combining the academic and the personal, Cousins’s film achieves an impressive balance between mind and heart - philosophical debate and emotional response.
One of the moments in The Story Of Looking that was, for me, incredibly moving came after Cousins, still in bed, asked his Twitter followers what role looking has played in their lives. How much of a consolation is the act of looking during a time when physical contact is not allowed? He receives some wonderfully insightful and beautifully emotional replies.
Meanwhile, Cousins also investigates the role of looking during different stages of life. What role does looking play in the experience of a baby or a young child? How does our relationship with looking change as we get older? At every turn, with every musing, The Story Of Looking encourages us to slow down and consider the visual world - past, present and future. The journey is an absolute joy .