VOD film review: The Storms of Jeremy Thomas
James R | On 10, Dec 2021
Director: Mark Cousins
Cast: Jeremy Thomas, Mark Cousins
In a world where Disney owns Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, Spider-Man and Black Panther, Jeremy Thomas is a unique force in cinema. That’s the argument made by Mark Cousins in The Storms of Jeremy Thomas, a film about the venerated British producer. Concerns about the potential consequences of commercial monopoly or cultural homogeneity are nothing new, but Cousins isn’t wrong about the second part: Jeremy Thomas really is a force to be reckoned with, and Cousins’ affectionate admiration is contagious.
The pair crossed paths a few years ago, which led to Thomas agreeing to let Cousins join him on his annual five-day drive down to the Cannes Film Festival. What ensues is part-documentary, part-interview and part-road trip, and Cousins enjoys swerving between the two with his engagingly lyrical style. The heir to Ralph Thomas and Gerald Thomas’ cinema legacy – one that includes the Doctor and Carry On films – Thomas has filmmaking in his veins, and Cousins doesn’t waste a minute of his time with him to make that clear to everyone watching.
Their conversation touches on every project you could think of, from his work with Bernardo Bertolucci and David Cronenberg to Nic Roeg and Takashi Miike. Cousins deftly jumps between footage and stills from this eclectic back catalogue, lingering on some of the most distinctive and unusual moments, such as the talking bug in Naked Lunch. By taking such a broad overview, though, the film lacks a granular depth that may disappoint those hoping for more hands-on insights – this is more critical essay than behind-the-scenes profile, and we don’t get much of a sense of how Thomas works or detailed anecdotes about particular films.
The most insight, tellingly, comes from a word association game near the end of the film – “Box office?” “Ambivalent.” “Cannes?” “Do.” – and even contributions from people such as Tilda Swinton keep Thomas as a relatively distant object to be celebrated from afar. But to look for practical tips in a Mark Cousins film is to misunderstand the alchemy at work; we’re rewarded instead with an absorbing and enjoyable trip through a remarkable, controversial and memorable contribution to British film history. Cousins’ gentle voiceover is as hypnotic as ever, and our fly-on-the-wall shotgunning in the passenger seat next to him invests this documentary with the warmth and free-wheeling association of a chat between friends, one that takes each new topic as a chance to drive off down interesting tangents.
The result is a treat for film lovers, one that avoids dry talking heads and instead spends its energy enjoying one man’s work – an ode to creativity that inspires as much as it entertains. It’s easy to bemoan the corporate nature of the modern film industry, but The Storms of Jeremy Thomas is a defiantly uncynical affair, one that celebrates cinema with a sincere, heartfelt passion – it’s an introduction to a producing legacy that leaves you wanting to dive right into it yourself.