The Story of Looking review: A new film examines the visual world

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Mark Cousins has an eye for making modern movies

Bofa Productions

The Story of Trying

Mark Cousins

In cinemas from 17 September

NOT lengthy earlier than I watched The Story of Trying, I used to be proven a picture of the within of my eye. At my annual sight check-up, I’d agreed to one thing known as an optical coherence tomography scan, inspecting the floor of my retina for abnormalities.

One image resembled a purple solar, lined with veins; the cross-section view revealed undulating layers like these of Earth’s crust. I checked out my eye, and my eye appeared again. Interested by it, I began to really feel a bit of queasy. It’s this visceral, charged relationship between being and seeing – how what we soak up of the world shapes our understanding of it – that Mark Cousins explores in his private, exploratory movie.

The Story of Trying extends his 2017 e-book of the identical identify to deliver collectively medium and message, as he did a decade in the past with The Story of Movie: An Odyssey, his 15-hour epic on the historical past of cinema. At 90 minutes lengthy, his new providing is comparatively glancing, however in some methods simply as formidable in trying to inform “the story of our wanting lives”.

The movie begins with a clip of musician Ray Charles, who went blind aged 7, being interviewed on The Dick Cavett Present within the US in 1972. Given the choice, he would refuse to have his sight completely restored, however would possibly think about it for sooner or later, he says. “There are a few issues that I’d possibly prefer to see, as soon as.”.

The concept an individual would possibly select to not see flooring Cousins, as “someone who has at all times cherished wanting”. He is smart of his life by visible markers – some simple, such because the sight of his late grandmother in an open coffin, however many extra apparently inconsequential: a dawn, a tree outdoors his bed room window, a glimpse of his neighbour.

However the ephemeral nature of this “visible world” was thrown into aid by his discovery, throughout lockdown final 12 months, of a cataract in his left eye. The parallel between the pandemic curbing his expertise and the potential of his failing imaginative and prescient to do the identical isn’t misplaced on Cousins, who units out to seize what sight has meant to him. “The place do I start to inform the story of my wanting?” he wonders on the day earlier than cataract surgical procedure.

“Why do I take selfies? Why has that tree, that panorama, that exact picture stayed with me for years?”

Impressed by the artist Paul ézanne’s description of his growing “optical expertise”, Cousins traces his personal, beginning together with his earliest reminiscences – by extension, his earliest sights. The intimacy of that is emphasised by our personal view of Cousins, shirtless in mattress, curtains drawn: shut inside with him, we see what he sees, if solely in his thoughts’s eye. He even initiatives into the longer term, past his surgical procedure, to deliver this “journey by our visible lives” full circle.

The Story of Trying is essayistic in type, even impressionistic, combining private expertise, wide-ranging references and globe-trotting footage from Cousins’s archives to create a kaleidoscopic image.

A few of this, reminiscent of Cousins studying aloud responses to his tweeted request for ideas on wanting, isn’t that fascinating to observe. However the evocativeness of his followers’ phrases, and Cousins’s emotional response to them – particularly at a time of enforced isolation – underscores his level: we don’t should be current, or collectively, to see for ourselves.

Likewise, if the movie’s meditative tempo generally fails to carry the eye, it seems like an extension of Cousins’s problem to our preconceptions – of what we think about to be “price seeing”, or what we imagine we should “bear witness” to. “Blurs are failures, aren’t they?” he says, of his cataract.

Simply because the film-maker’s looming surgical procedure causes him to mirror on what he has seen, “to go across the metropolis for a day with my eyes extensive open”, The Story of Trying prompts me to see my very own “visible world” anew. Why do I take selfies? Why has that tree, that panorama, that exact picture stayed with me for years?

The impact is oddly uplifting, as if my very own aperture has been enlarged. Certainly, it casts the information that I would like a primary pair of prescription glasses in a brand new mild – as one other chapter in my very own story of wanting.

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