Synopsis: In his latest documentary, Mark Cousins focuses his attention on the independent, British film producer, Jeremy Thomas. Thomas has produced 70 productions and worked with Bertolucci, Cronenberg, Loach, Ôshima, and Roeg. You might not know Thomas’ name, but you’ll certainly recognise his films. We join Thomas and Cousins as they embark on a road trip – the two are driving to the Cannes Film Festival to attend the premiere of First Love (Miike, 2019). As they drive, they discuss cinema, Thomas’ films, and his other passions.
Documentary Making: Cousins Style
Mark Cousins, filmmaker and cinephile, is no stranger to the documentary format and his latest is a confident demonstration of his unique approach. The Storms of Jeremy Thomas (Cousins, 2021) features all of the usual documentary tropes; film clips, photos, handheld footage, voiceover narration and talking-head interviews (featuring Thomas, Tilda Swinton and Debra Winger). However, Cousins has never been one for rigidly adhering to convention, so while those tropes are indeed all present, they’re all utilised in his unique style.
For example, he shoots from unusual angles and rarely frames his subjects in the traditional manner i.e. to the left or right of the screen. It isn’t that Cousins defies the conventions of documentary films, more that he plays with them. What is always present in a Cousins documentary is his passion – whether that’s conveyed via his voiceover or the imagery contained within the frame. Cousins revels in cinema and his passion is almost tactile. We understand the love that he has for cinema because his passion is there whenever he’s learning something new, discussing Thomas’ films or waxing lyrical about the medium in those Northern Irish, dulcet tones. Cousins love of cinema is infectious, and in The Storms of Jeremy Thomas, there’s a sense of deep admiration and kinsmanship for his subject.
Essentially, the film is 90 minutes of two cinephiles in a car discussing cinema. It is a slightly voyeuristic affair – like we’ve hitched a lift with acquaintances and we’re eavesdropping – but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable ride. Cousins use voiceover always adds a dreamlike quality to his films and the script for The Storms of Jeremy Thomas does not disappoint.
When the duo does eventually arrive in Cannes, Cousins shoots the famous red steps, which provides him with the perfect excuse to go on a tangent. Cue a montage of famous steps in cinema from The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973), to The Red Shoes (Powell & Pressburger, 1948), to The Shining (Kubrick, 1980). It is a simple scene, arguably, completely unnecessary, but it is a quintessentially Cousins touch and it will likely bring a smile to any cinephile’s face. In a later scene, Thomas remarks that he probably loves cinema too much, and that would be just as true for Mark Cousins.
The Life of Jeremy Thomas
The film is broken up into six chapters; Cars, Sex, Politics, Death, Cannes, and Endings. The chapters predominantly revolve around cinema and the films that Thomas has produced. However, these chapters also include examples of Thomas’ personal affections or inclinations. For example, Thomas is a self-described ‘petrolhead’ but also recognises the negative impact that the motor vehicle has had on the world.
Thomas describes himself as being from a privileged, conservative background. Cousins refers to him as ‘the prince’ throughout the documentary because his father was British cinema royalty. His father, Gerald Thomas, directed all 30 of the Carry On films. However, despite his conservative background, he cites Ken Loach as being a founding influence on his politics.
Ultimately though, it’s just fascinating to hear Thomas experiences – what it was like to work with Nicolas Roeg, the reception of Crash (Cronenberg, 1996) at Cannes, and his opinion on independent cinema vs. the studio system. Cousins brings up Disney and its continued consumption of studios, and unsurprisingly, Thomas isn’t a fan. His main issue is that the studio system produces ‘safe’ films, whereas he would much rather be working on an independent film, breaking new boundaries.
Close to the film’s end, Cousins asks Thomas to play a game of word association; it throws up some interesting answers but his response to Cannes is perfect. It’s fairly obvious but I won’t spoil it, however, it is the perfect answer from a producer of his stature.
Conclusion: The Storms of Jeremy Thomas is a candid observational documentary that focuses on the life and films of a man that adores cinema. In many respects, Thomas and Cousins are reflections of one another. They both love cinema and the world is a much better place because of their contributions to the art form.
- The Storms of Jeremy Thomas (Cousins, 2021) was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival, which runs until 17 October. A release date for The Storms of Jeremy Thomas is to be announced.
Simon’s favourite Jeremy Thomas Films:
- 13 Assassins (Miike, 2010)
- Fast Food Nation (Linklater, 2006)
- The Dreamers (Bertolucci, 2003)
- Sexy Beast (Glazer, 2000)
- Brother (Kitano, 2000)
- Crash (Cronenberg, 1996)
- Little Buddha (Bertolucci, 1993)
- Naked Lunch (Cronenberg, 1991)
- Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Ôshima, 1983)
- Eureka (Roeg, 1983)
- Bad Timing (Roeg, 1980)
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