Cousins’ narration gets a bit MFA fiction workshop at certain points, but that’s a feature of his work, not a bug (in another life, he might’ve been a novelist, possibly in a Beat writer mode). The film is organized around storms and divided into numbered chapters with titles like “Sex” and “Death.” It gets a bit fanboyish when delving into the sexual and political content of Thomas’ projects. Cousins accounts for this by noting that his own tastes were partly formed by watching Thomas’ movies.
Regardless, there’s a place in current documentary cinema for a lament about how the relentless corporatization of mainstream films helped feed a squirmy Puritanism that eschews psychological complexity as well as adult sexuality and insists that bad behavior be labeled as such. “The Storms of Jeremy Thomas” encourages viewers to broaden their horizons and seek out unknown and possibly uncomfortable work. It portrays the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s as a lost continent of handsomely funded movies aimed at sophisticated and curious adults rather than The Kid Inside All of Us. The voyeuristic impulse that has always fueled cinema to some degree is acknowledged in several film clips, such as the brother in “The Dreamers” watching his sister and the visiting American getting intimate, and the title character in the Thomas-produced “Dom Hemingway” proclaiming that a painting of his johnson “should hang in the Louvre.”
Cinema, Swinton says in an interview with Cousins, “asks for something visceral. And that’s the best cinema: the cinema that asks for that.” Cousins praises Thomas for helping important filmmakers push right up to the edge of whatever lines were being drawn at the time, then go over because that’s what art is empowered to do. Cousins joins the movement himself by pairing a rumination about Thomas’ libertine sympathies (“is the producer, the prince, a petrol head, a bohemian?”) with a video selfie taken while he’s wading naked in the pool of the house Thomas rented at Cannes (full-frontal, but partly obscured by water).
“I like the counterculture,” Thomas says at one point, summing everything up. “I’m not seeking the popular culture. I enjoy a Spielberg movie like everybody else. But they’re not what I’m looking for. The most famous paintings are available to all, out in the first hall in the museum. The counterculture is something you sort of…you have to look for it. You have to find it.”
Now playing in theaters.