Superior directors, just short of great. I’d hate to live in a world without them! Click on the write-ups on the right of the front page.
Thriving on a riff!
Notes on some of the more controversial Majors choices and whatnot.
Don’t dismiss the inclusion of De Mille here until you’ve seen his silents. Also, if you can’t enjoy The Sign of the Cross or Cleopatra then you probably shouldn’t be reading this.
Frank Borzage comes very close to being a master. Only Murnau made silents at the same level of excellence. It’s crazy that Seventh Heaven, Lucky Star and Street Angel don’t get taught in film school. Borzage’s great second act (1934-40) is shamefully overlooked. Unfortunately, he made some stinkers at Warner Brothers and a bout with alcoholism derailed his career during the war.
If the talented and versatile Pabst hadn’t made two transcendent films with Louise Brooks would he be included here? Perhaps not!
La Cava is definitely a borderline major. The case to be made for him is the shining, adult intelligence in his four or five great comedies. He never insulted his audience.
I wasn’t so sure about George Stevens but he made some stellar entertainments. One can make a case he did the best job of directing both Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn. And that’s saying something!
Michael Powell is one of the classic filmmakers I actually met. I have to admit I didn’t always get what he was after in A Canterbury Tale, A Matter of Life and Death or even I Know Where I’m Going (a film I love). It’s possible Powell occasionally eludes me because I’m a Yank. Perhaps that’s too easy a cop out. Still, there was no one quite like Powell. He had balls!
Douglas Sirk could well be a master. His excellent German films need to be re-evaluated. He did make a lot of junk at Universal before he hit his stride in the mid-1950s.
Cocteau can seem a bit overripe to modern audiences but I kinda of dig that he reaches for a holy grail of sorts. As a rule magical realism leaves me cold but, for some reason, I think it works well in his movies.
I can’t think of an important director whose stock has fallen more than Antonioni in recent years. Film students and young cineastes really don’t get him. I tend to like him despite my distaste for zombie films. Antonioni had a painterly eye and made great use of the widescreen. The documentary on China is a revelation and needs to be seen.
Ingmar Bergman was a great director of actors but not really a top echelon filmmaker. His was a theatrical talent. Still, he has an immense body of work and several of his 1940s films—which he pretty much disowned—are well worth a gander.
I know I’m going to get beaten up over including Don Siegel here but it’s my opinion that he, and not Edgar Ulmer, was the best B-picture director to ever come out of Hollywood. There, I said it.
I can’t believe how overlooked Robert Aldrich is these days. At the very least Kiss Me Deadly and Baby Jane should have cemented his legend as a Hollywood cult figure. He was far ahead of his time.
Every time Blake Edwards turned out a clunker in the 1980s it pained me. What went wrong there? What does it say about me that I cared so much about his career? I shudder to think.