Moving on this week with The Droid You’re Looking For, author John LaRue shares with us his top 5 favorite directors. All information and comments were taken directly from John’s blog so read on.
First up is Ingmar Bergman.
He was Doctor Doom- expounding heavily on weighty philosophical and theological matters that hadn’t been discussed too often in cinema prior to Bergman- but he was also an absolute master at his craft. He took the close-up and made it his own weapon, sapping every ounce of humanity possible out of his actors’ faces. His attention to detail was phenomenal. He and his long-time cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, were phenomenal with their use of shadow, light, and contrast in a grayscale medium. By just about any measure that you’d like to use to gauge a director, Ingmar Bergman was phenomenal. And the ruthless honesty with which he approached serious questions that plague mankind launch him into a different stratosphere.
See: The Seventh Seal; Winter Light; The Magician; Persona; Wild Strawberries
Numero two is Luis Bunuel.
Buñuel was the king of absurdity, the Sultan of the Surreal. He grew up, intellectually, with Salvador Dali; the two met and befriended each other in Madrid when Buñuel was 17. The two launched a film career together with the iconic Un Chien Andalou and ultimately changed film forever. Buñuel was counter-culture to his very core, a rebel who greatly enjoyed whimsically poking fun at religion, sexuality, class structure, and just about every other social institution you can imagine. And for this, he is my #2.
See: The Phantom of Liberty; The Exterminating Angel; Los Olvidados; Un Chien Andalou; The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Louis Malle is John’s third pick.
Time and time again, when you see lists of great directors, Louis Malle is either buried towards the bottom or excluded altogether. The only real reason I can come up with for this egregious mistake is that Malle had no specific genre. Most auteurs have a template that they employ while executing their craft. Louis Malle did not. He made film noir; French language drama; English language drama; gangster films; French and American documentaries; short films; etc… And each time he tackled a new genre, he was very successful at it. The one thing that he shares with Bergman is that he’s so deeply personal in his films. Many of his films are some shade of biographical. And his early film, The Fire Within, is quite frankly my favorite film of all-time.
See: The Fire Within; Elevator to the Gallows; Murmur of the Heart; God’s Country; Au Revoir les Enfants
Fourth on the list is Akira Kurosawa.
John wrote about Akira Kurosawa in his very first blog post, check out what he said to say about him below.
At some point in the last year or so, I’ve come to view Kurosawa as the best director in the world. He’s not necessarily my favorite (hello, Ingmar Bergman) but in the pure terms of the artistic value of his films, combined with entertainment value, I don’t think you can top Kurosawa. Why do I say this?
1. He was a rebel
Themes of rebellion are all over the place in his movies. High and Low, The Lower Depths, Ikiru, and The Bad Sleep Well have very poignant, very sharp critiques of greed and monopoly capitalism. Protagonists in films like Yojimbo/Sanjuro and Seven Samurai are badass outsiders.
2. His films translate well in the west
In fact, his films translate so well in the west that critics in Japan broke his chops for not making traditional Japanese films. But consider- Kurosawa was making films in post-World War II Japan and had to mold whatever message he had in an acceptable way for American censors. And he still managed to get through critiques of greed and capitalism.
Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven. Yojimbo became A Fistful of Dollars. His brilliant conflicting-story epic, Rashomon, was re-made as the very underrated, unknown The Outrage. And let’s not forget that Star Wars owes a good deal to The Hidden Fortress.
3. His films were technical masterpieces
This is one of those fun little things I’ve learned from commentary (thank you, Criterion). Watch the way so many of his shots work. There’s a beautiful choreography that goes on between foreground and background. Or watch some of the breathtaking exterior scenes he captures, particularly the way shadow and light play with one another. Watch the astounding close-ups that he uses to milk every last drop of humanity out of the character. He was a master behind the camera.
4. Kurosawa had a proper appreciation for classical literature
Literature Kurosawa tackled at various times:
- Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot
- King Lear
5. Few directors, if any, capture humanity the way Kurosawa did
The two best examples that come to my mind are Dodes’ka-Den and Stray Dog. Both films give you powerful insight in to the slums, into the characters in the slums. Ikiru is another beautiful example. As much as that film is about one man’s character arc from cold bureaucrat to philanthropist, it’s also about the way people respond to him at various points along the arc. Or check out High and Low, which takes a very dramatic situation- a kidnapped child- and gives you deep insight into the reason/cold calculation of the police, the father’s debate over the various options to get the child back (and the vengeance that boils underneath the surface), the employee whose behavior led to the kidnapping, etc.
6. The dude simply didn’t make a bad movie
I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Lower Depths, at least the story in the film. Even then, the pure art of filmmaking is tighter than a frog’s asshole. And we’re not talking about, say, PT Anderson, who has made some fantastic films but only has 5 or so to his credit. Through Netflix alone, you can watch 20+ films by Kurosawa. I’ve banged out 16 and not one has been a dud. Not one has even been so much as average.
You get the point. Kurosawa was a master filmmaker.
And finally, number five is Alfred Hitchcock.
I’m relatively limited, as I’ve seen about 1/3 of the full Hitchcock catalogue. But the insane quality of what I’ve already seen demands to be included on this brief list. No director was better at toeing the line between art and entertainment. Sure, you might think of Vertigo as a crazy little flick about Jimmy Stewart’s obsession with Kim Novak. But peel back a layer or two and there’s a really hilarious, and dirty, subtext about necrophilia (and to a lesser degree, celebrity worship). Psycho is tense and full of suspenseful goodness, but a thin layer below that, it may as well have been made by Sigmund Freud. In Rope, you the viewer find yourself sucked into a morbid fascination with the murder plot hatched by the protagonists. But there in the middle of it all is one of the protagonists re-telling a tale of how shaken he’d gotten by a farm episode in which he had to “choke chickens”. Like Bergman, Hitchcock was obsessed with details and it paid off in buckets when it came to overall quality.
See: Vertigo; Rear Window; North by Northwest; Psycho; Strangers on a Train