The Storms of Jeremy Thomas

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Both the writing and making of films by Mark Cousins are well known. The overlap between the two is so great that a circle would be used to represent their relationship in a Venn diagram if you attempted to create one. Cousins is a critic, scholar, programer, and documentarian best known for “The Story of Film: An Odyssey” and its variations, such as “A Story of Children and Film” and “The Story of Film: The New Generation,” as well as for other, shall we say, more eccentric works. While “What is this Film Called Love?” is structured as a message to the director, “The Eyes of Orson Welles” is framed as a tribute to the late a walking tour of Mexico City featuring the fictional travel companion of Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948). “Bigger than the Shining,” a movie about copyright and the issue of whether two people can ever truly see the “same” movie, was only shown once before being purposefully destroyed.

The outcomes are always going to be hit or miss because he works so intuitively and personally, frequently developing entire projects off a sudden revelation or inspiration (“A Story of Children and Film” was inspired by seeing home video footage of his niece and nephew).

One of Cousins’ best and most captivating movies is “The Storms of Jeremy Thomas,” which follows the life of one of the most significant film producers of the past 50 years. It’s a “road movie” that follows Thomas, the director of notable films like “The Last Emperor,” “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” “Sexy Beast,” “Crash,” and “The Naked Lunch,” as they travel from the UK to the Cannes Film Festival.

This one feels different from many of the others, in part because Cousins has a clean canvas to work with in terms of his human subject, even though the movies he mentions are well-known or semi-famous (at least to the type of person predisposed to seek out this documentary). Although Thomas is a close friend of Cousins and has a lengthy and remarkable resume, most moviegoers are not familiar with him.

The novelty of the subject allows Cousins to use the intellectual/aesthetic divining rod techniques he’s been honing for decades to paint an audiovisual portrait of Thomas (and himself; there’s always a lot of Cousins in every Cousins film) while putting to rest criticisms about why he spent so much time on this aspect of the subject’s life and not enough on that.

The release of “The Storms of Jeremy Thomas” coincides with the Recorded Picture Organization’s 50th birthday, which Thomas created in 1974. He is a descendant of a family in the film industry and would be referred to as a “nepo baby” today, according to Rebecca O’Brien, producer for Ken Loach and Lynne Ramsay.

His history with incredible European filmmakers and others is unmatched. He collaborated on numerous movies with David Cronenberg and Nicolas Roeg, as well as with Bernardo Bertolucci (“The Sheltering Sky,” “The Dreamers,” and others), as well as Nicolas Roeg (“Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession,” “Eureka,” “Insignificance,” and others).

Even in silence, Thomas, who is now 74, makes for an engaging camera subject, and even more so while chatting. He survived illness and changed as a result of his close encounter with death; he drives like “a teenager,” according to Cousins’ narrative; he worships the free-spirited or bohemian sensibility of European artists; and he possesses the rumbling baritone voice of an old French character actor.

Additionally, it aids viewers in navigating the film’s various segments, which follow the peaks and valleys of Thomas and Cousins’ encounters.

There isn’t much in the way of sleazy rumors or startling revelations for fans curious about Thomas’ opinions of boldfaced names he’s worked with. However, the facts are entertaining and instructive. In interviews with Cousins about Thomas, Debra Winger (of “The Sheltering Sky”) and Tilda Swinton (with whom Thomas has worked on various initiatives relating to filmmaking and film exhibitions) laud his vigor, openness, and inventiveness.

It’s a mutual appreciation club; according to Thomas, they are like-minded individuals whose instincts assist hone and make clear a film’s ideas and aim. Thomas also discusses David Bowie, who starred in “Merry Christmas, Mr.

Instead of The Kid Inside All of Us, it portrays the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s as a forgotten continent of lavishly funded films. In several movie clips, the voyeuristic impulse that has in some ways always driven cinema is acknowledged, such as when the brother in “The Dreamers” witnesses his sister and the American visitor having a sexual encounter and when the title character in the Thomas-produced “Dom Hemingway” declares that a painting of his johnson “should hang in the Louvre.”

The movie industry “asks for something visceral,” according to Swinton in an interview with Cousins. The film that requests that is the best film, by the way. Cousins commends Thomas for assisting key filmmakers in pushing to the very edge of whatever boundaries that were established at the time, then crossing them since art has the potential to do so. Cousins joins the movement by combining a reflection on Thomas’ libertine tendencies (“Is the producer, the prince, a petrol head, a bohemian?”) with a video selfie made while he is wading naked in the pool of the home Thomas rented in Cannes (full-frontal, although partially concealed by water).

At one point Thomas sums it all up by saying, “I like the counterculture.” “Popular culture is not what I’m after. Like everyone else, I appreciate a good Spielberg film. But I’m not seeking for them. Everyone can view the most well-known paintings outside in the museum’s first hall. You sort of have to search for the counterculture. You need to look for it.

Currently showing in cinemas.


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