Rightwing Film Geek

Another manifesto-length combox answer

(Title explains this post, I think … I was asked a question about film direction by my friend Mark.)

I wrote about some of what I consider makes a great director in this post here in the specific context of what I describing what I mean by calling Michael Haneke the world’s greatest pure director — an opinion I hold quite devoutly.

For those who don’t want to hit the link — what makes a director great in my view is his style (after all, as the cliche goes — there are only seven stories anyway). Or to be more exact, a great director uses his formal control over the medium in precise and specific ways. He resists cliche by creatively using all or as many as possible of the tools at his disposal. For example, I praised Steve McQueen’s direction of a scene of someone eating breakfast because I’ve never seen anyone eat breakfast this way. The director’s task is to get you to respond in the ways the film wants or needs you to. Or in Hitchcock’s phrase — direction is “playing the audience like a piano.”

(The embedding isn’t gonna work, so, you’ll have to go here for the example.)

If you go to the comparison early on in this Siskel & Ebert special of the two versions of THE LADY VANISHES, I think Ebert is overstating the importance of black-and-white specifically, though he’s right that in the Cybill Shepard remake, the scene does look more like a travelogue. But that’s why the color scene is badly directed although much more realistic and “beautiful” in a picture-postcard sense. This is the moment (I should speak only of Hitchcock’s version) where the film turns from a comedy into a thriller, when a character falls asleep and wakes up to notice the English lady has vanished. You want something at that moment slightly surreal, something transitional, something forceful. Shepard is more glamorous than Margaret Lockwood and the color-film’s old woman is a far more naturalistically believable actor than the black-and-white one, and that’s why they’re both inferior. You want an everyman (or everywoman in this case) in the first instance and someone more coldly villainous in the second. THE LADY VANISHES is the kind of nightmare that it is because Hitch’s cutting and framing, and the choice of performers, make it that.

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September 22, 2008 Posted by | Direction | 1 Comment

McQueen’s direction

I figured after I wrote that this reply to a commenter was also detailed enough for a post … basically what do I think of the Variety review of HUNGER, which was the best fillum I saw at Toronto, and its specific complaint of trite symbolism.

[HUNGER] stumbles in film’s last furlough with trite symbolism. Pic’s slow pace and uncompromising physicality may choke off some auds, but “Hunger” should pull in arthouse auds in moderate numbers domestically and travel offshore. …

[Director Steve] McQueen really overeggs the pudding [] in the final reel, where (and this is no spoiler for anyone glancingly versed in Sands’ story) the protagonist wastes away, the camera focusing intimately on his bedsores and emaciated frame. Tawdry, cliched images include Sands’ vision of himself as a child sitting in the room, topped by a near final image of a flock of birds — free at last! — that seemingly symbolizes his soul’s last flight. It’s a disappointing last gasp for a film that otherwise demonstrates confidence, guts and the abundant promise of its helmer.

I think it’s pretty wack to accuse HUNGER of trite symbolism, though I agree with some of the other reservations that a trade publication may have — that its “slow pace and uncompromising physicality” (two of its greatest virtues IMHO) means it isn’t a crowd-pleaser. In fact, this seems a case of a critic getting a film without getting it, since those two features are exactly why the third act doesn’t commit trite symbolism (something I’m usually on guard against).

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September 22, 2008 Posted by | Steve McQueen | 3 Comments