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TCM's 'Story of Film' Reaches the Heights of 'Citizen Kane' and Draws a Few Wild Cards

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire September 30, 2013 at 5:06PM

In the fifth of its fifteen weeks, the Turner Classic Movies series built around Mark Cousins' fifteen-part documentary reaches undisputed classics and throws in a few wild cards.
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'Citizen Kane'
'Citizen Kane'

As it moves into what's often though of as the Hollywood studio system's peak decade, Turner Classic Movies' series 'The Story of Film' -- built around the fifth part of Mark Cousins' fifteen-hour documentary – is on well-trod ground. (The accompanying book, Cousins announced on Twitter this morning, will be available in the U.S. on Nov. 15.) If you haven't seen Citizen Kane or Singin' in the Rain -- well, what are you doing reading this? Get to it!

But Cousins, as is his uptalking wont, puts the often-examined films together in new ways, and TCM's second night of programming throws the brilliantly inventive Gun Crazy and the wonderfully strange A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven) into the mix to keep things interesting. Here, as every week, is Criticwire's annotated guide to TCM's schedule. (Previous weeks are here).

Monday, Sept. 30

8 p.m.: Stagecoach (1939) (U.S.A.)

Not the first, or even John Ford's first, Western, but a film that (re)defined the genre, and brought to the fore a little-known actor named John Wayne. The Directors Guild of America's 1971 oral history includes memories from Ford, Wayne, cowboy regular Andy Devine, actress Claire Trevor and legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt, who recalls hiring a farmer to plough the dirt for the film's climactic chase so his performers would have something soft to land on. On the Criterion Collection’s site, David Cairns writes how Ford acted as "ethnographer of an unreal world," and in the Los Angeles Times, I wrote about how the film looks forward with some melancholy to the end of the Wild West.

10 p.m.: The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011). Episode Five: "Post-War Cinema (1940s)"

11:15 p.m.: Citizen Kane (1941) (U.S.A.)

Books have been written and empires built on Orson Welles' (nearly) undisputed masterpiece, whose name has become shorthand for the heights of artistic achievement. Time magazine complied "the Citizen Kane of Citizen Kane Lists" and the Kids in the Hall riffed on its iconic status.


Rather than bow beneath the weight of accumulated scholarship, let's leave the description to Welles himself: "I wished to make a motion picture which was not a narrative of action so much as an examination of character.... There have been many motion pictures and novels rigorously obeying the formula of the 'success story,' I wished to do something quite different. I wished to make a picture which might be called a "failure story.'"

1:30 a.m.: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) (U.S.A.)

In 1946, director William Wyler explained to the New York Times that "Great pictures can't be entirely fictitious." The story of three World War II veterans returning home after the war is the least Hollywood of Hollywood movies, costarring double-amputee veteran Harold J. Russell alongside Dana Andrews and Frederic March. A pointed pairing with...

4:30 a.m.: Rome, Open City (1946) (Italy)

This 1977 article from the journal Jump Cut argues the radicalism of Roberto Rossellini’s realist style.

Tuesday, Oct. 1

8 p.m.: Singin' in the Rain (1952) (U.S.A.)

10 p.m.: Double Indemnity (1944) (U.S.A.)

Midnight: The Bicycle Thieves (1948) (Italy)

1:45 a.m.: Gun Crazy (1950) (U.S.A.)

3:15 a.m.: The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011). Episode Five: "Post-War Cinema (1940s)"

4:30 a.m.: The Big Sleep (1946) (U.S.A.)

6:30 a.m.: A Matter of Life and Death (1947) (United Kingdom)

This article is related to: The Story of Film


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