Directors In the 70s Burned Up The Screens, Today's Star Directors Make Cameo Appearances
An excellent story from the New York Times looks at why so many of the great young directors of the 1990s are so unproductive.
Some of them, like Kimberly Peirce of Boys Don't Cry (1999) fame, are moving at a Kubrickian glacial pace. She's got a new movie out this year, Stop-Loss, but that's almost eight years between films.
Darren Aronofsky turned out Pi (1998) and Requiem For A Dream (2000), and then six years drifted by until he directed The Fountain.
David Fincher has moved a little faster since his groundbreaking serial killer smash Seven (1995), with Fight Club (2000) and Panic Room (2002), but still it will be five years between movies when Zodiac is released later this year.
David O. Russell sated hungry adult humour audiences with Flirting With Disaster (1996), and then delivered brilliantly with Three Kings (1999), but apart from I Heart Huckabees (2004), and a documentary, he hasn't turned out another new movie and is unlikely to in the next two years.
Spike Jonze directed Being John Malkovich in 1999, and then Adaptation in 2002. Then a whole bunch of videos and did some writing for Jackass (it has writers?)
Quinten Tarantino directed Reservoir Dogs in 1992, then Pulp Fiction in 1994, and Jackie Brown in 1997, but seven years slid by before he turned out Kill Bill in 2004. He's got a new movie Grindhouse coming soon, but five movies in some 16 years is hardly prolific.
Tarantino has more excuses than most of the director-slackers of his generation. He's wasted time writing and directing episodes of CSI and ER, acting, producing, hosting film festivals, but those gigs only chew up a few weeks or a month at most per go. What has he been doing?
Australia's star director crowd of the 1990s have been no less slack than their American counterparts.
Baz Lurhman directed Strictly Ballroom in 1992. He directed Romeo & Juliet in 1996, then turned out Moulin Rouge in 2001. He's about to start directing a new movie called Australia, but we won't see that until mid-2008, if not later. Fifteen years or so since his first big hit, but only four movies.
Stephen Elliot directed Frauds in 1993, then Priscilla : Queen Of The Desert in 1994. He turned his eyes to Welcome To Woop Woop in 1997, but since Eye Of The Beholder in 1999, nothing.
Alex Proyas looked set to have an awesome career after crafting the still-brilliant goth-epic The Crow in 1994. He's since directed Dark City (1998), Garage Days (2002) and I Robot (2004), but again, that's only four movies in more than 13 years. And there's no new movie due this year.
Some might hold up Stanley Kubrick as an example of a great director who turned out new movies sometimes with a decade long hiatus in-between. But in his 30s Kubrick turned out five total classics, including Dr Strangelove, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange.
And the star directors of today may also like to claim that great movies take time, and that higher production costs mean it's even harder now to get new projects greenlighted. Pah.
With HD video and thousands of great actors and crew members standing around idle and 100 million people waiting on YouTube, why are they pottering around making music video clips, TV ads, docos for DVD re-releases and doing rewrites of other peoples' screenplays?
And why do they have to make movies that cost $100 million? Kenny cost barely $500,000, and Wolf Creek only a bit over twice that, yet both of these movies were as good, if not far better, than most of the mega-budget flops turned out by Hollywood in the 2000s. They also generated millions for their investors and producers.
By the way, it's freakishly disturbing how often the name 'Sting' comes up when you go looking to see what some of the above directors have been devoting their time to, instead of making new movies.
As the New York Times story points out, compare these bare cupboards of those supposed to be amongst the most talented directors of their generation to the heaving, crammed wardrobes of key directors in the 1970s.
Francis Ford Coppola directed and produced The Godfather 1 & 2 and The Conversation, and wrote the brilliant Patton screenplay, all within three years (between 1971 and 1974).
He then turned out the monstrously huge epic Apocalypse Now (which he mostly funded himself), started a film studio, produced at least three box office hits and directed the highly experimental movie-on-video One From The Heart by the end of 1981.
In the next three years alone, Coppola made four more movies, including the morosely wonderful Rumble Fish and the teen gang classic The Outsiders.
Or take a look at what Martin Scorsese got up to from 1973 to 1985 : Mean Streets, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, New York New York, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, The King Of Comedy, After Hours.
Or dive into the filmographies of directors like Hal Ashby. He directed The Last Detail, Shampoo, Being There, Coming Home and Harold & Maude in less than eight years. All classics, and all still extremely good movies to watch today.
Between MASH in 1970 and Popeye in 1980, Robert Altman directed 13 movies, including Three Women, The Long Goodbye and McCabe & Mrs Miller. Even when Altman was in hitting 80 years old and dying, he still turned out two new movies.
In the 1970s, directors directed movies. One after another. No fucking around, or more importantly, no waiting around.
Some of the 1970s crop were good, some were okay, but many were brilliant. The point is when directors like Coppola or Ashby or Altman or Scorsese were hot, they burned up the screen. Again and again.
And they built fan followings that were forgiving of the mis-steps and the experiments that didn't quite come off. These were directors who built careers on the back of high productivity.
But the directors that won us over in the 1990s with their first and second movies make cameo appearances as directors in the 2000s.
And they can't blame the studios.
Why wouldn't major studios want reasonably budgeted new movies from Fincher and Proyas and Lurhman every year? They do. But the directors aren't delivering.
It's that simple. They are not delivering.
From the New York Times :
The current lack of productivity among promising filmmakers in their 30s and 40s has become a cause for quiet consternation among producers and agents, not to mention film lovers. It is felt in the paucity of movies creating excitement around the Oscars, and in the desperate trolling for new talent at the Sundance Film Festival.
“I say it to these guys all the time, and some of them are my friends: ‘I feel like I want to see more movies from you,’ ” said Lorenzo di Bonaventura, a producer who was in charge of production in the ’90s at Warner Brothers, where he championed both “Three Kings” and "The Matrix".
“Why not more David Russell? Why not more Darren Aronofsky?” As filmgoers we’re being deprived. We as a business have to reach out to these filmmakers and beg them to make more.”
But it is possible that the self-indulgent American culture that shaped these filmmakers and made them so successful in the 1990s has left them ill equipped to take on the weightier questions facing society in the new millennium.
“It’s part of the larger culture,” said Laura Ziskin...“There’s not a lot of encouragement to go deep on anything. In the ’70s people had the feeling they could change things through art, through creativity.”
Says leading Hollywood agent Jeremy Barber :
“We have an indulgent system....The industry celebrates them prematurely, and we don’t enter into a dialectical relationship with them.”
Director Cameron Crowe believes there is a lack of 'creative ferment' in Hollywood today, unlike the 1970s when it flooded the veins of the film industry like cocaine filled the sinuses.
In short, there are no great challenges left for the directors today, they are not clashing and banging and scraping up against each other, trying to outdo each other. Or even impress each other.
But if that is true enough, then all hope is not lost.
We just have to look elsewhere. To Mexico, for example.
Three of the best movies of the past twelve months came from Mexican directors.Babel by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Pan's Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro.
Children Of Men by Alfonso Cuaron.
All three have picked up writing nominations in the coming Academy Awards. All three have made decent-to-huge profits for their producers and investors, and all three will go down as utter classics of the 2000s.
And while Bryan Singer (director of the The Usual Suspects) was remaking the 1970s version of Superman, these guys were diving into hardcore adult-minded subject matter.
From alienation to the breakdown of society, to giving in to total evil, to police states and environmental Armageddon.
To say that such subjects are too heavy for modern audiences is a flat out lie. Adult film audiences are literally hanging out in cinema foyers waiting for quality movies, with big stars, that will challenge them, and awaken them.
The key to why these three Mexican directors have succeeded so brilliantly is very simple.
They share amongst themselves a creative friction, and set for each other infuriating, yet enormously inspiring challenges of the kind that seem to be totally lacking in Hollywood, and in the so-called mainstream of Australian cinema :
“These films are like triplets, they are sisters,” Mr. Cuarón said in a telephone interview from Mexico. (In the middle of the conversation his cellphone rang, with Mr. Iñárritu on the line. “I am trashing you as we speak,” Mr. Cuarón told him in Spanish.)
“We are very good friends,” he continued. “We are big fans of one another, we respect each other so much. If Alejandro says, ‘That stinks,’ I know he is not trying to hurt me, he’s trying to help me.”
When Mr. González Iñárritu ran out of steam in the editing room, Mr. del Toro trimmed several minutes from his film; Mr. González Iñárritu returned the favor on “Pan’s Labyrinth.” After months of research in London, Mr. Cuarón showed an early draft of the screenplay for “Children of Men” to Mr. González Iñárritu.
“He said: ‘Man, this is a piece of junk. You can’t shoot this thing. Where are your characters?’ ” Mr. Cuarón recalled. He spent a sleepless night, then went back to the drawing board.
This mutual prodding has been going on for years, Mr. del Toro said. “We have a relationship that is not guarded, and that is invaluable in an industry where most people expect complacency...”
In other words, they're not afraid of harsh criticism, even from their best friends. They are not in commercial competition with each other, they are trying to blow each other's minds.
They don't fear criticism. They welcome it. They soak it up and learn from it.
As they should.
And if you've seen Babel, Pan's Labyrinth or Children Of Men, then you would know their careers and their movies are all the better for it.
And so, too, clearly. is their friendship.