In 1928 Fred Zinnemann worked as assistant to cinematographer Eugene Sch?fftan on Robert Siodmak's Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday), along with Edgar Ulmer and Billy Wilder, who wrote the scenario for this semi-documentary silent feature made in the tradition of Flaherty and Vertov.
Robert Siodmak is an example of the UFA-influenced German directors who moved to Hollywood when war threatened Europe. Less well known than his compatriots Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang, Siodmak demonstrated his cinematic skills early in his career with his innovative movie Menschen am Sonntag, which featured a non-professional cast, hand-held camera shots, stop motion photography, and the sort of flashbacks that later became associated with his work in America.
Roberto Rossellini has been so closely identified with the rise of the postwar Italian style of filmmaking known as neorealism that it would be a simple matter to neatly pigeonhole him as merely a practitioner of that technique and nothing more. So influential has that movement been that the achievement embodied in just three of his films?Roma, citt? aperta; Pais?; and Germania, anno zero?would be enough to secure the director a major place in film history.
The years 1932 to 1945 define the major filmmaking efforts of Leni Riefenstahl. Because she remained a German citizen making films in Hitler's Third Reich, two at the Fuhrer's request, she and her films were viewed as pro-Nazi. Riefenstahl claims she took no political position and committed no crimes. In 1948, a German court ruled that she was a follower of, not active in, the Nazi Party. Another court in 1952 reconfirmed her innocence of war crimes. But she is destined to remain a politically controversial filmmaker who made two films rated as masterpieces.
Jean Renoir's major work dates from between 1924 and 1939. Of his 21 films the first six are silent features that put forward cinematic problems that come to dominate the entire oeuvre. All study a detachment, whether of language and image, humans and nature, or social rules and real conduct. Optical effects are treated as problems coextensive with narrative. He shows people who are told to obey rules and conventions in situations and social frames that confine them. A sensuous world is placed before everyone's eyes, but access to it is confounded by cultural mores.
Carol Reed came to films from the theater, where he worked as an assistant to Edgar Wallace. He served his apprenticeship in the film industry first as a dialogue director, and then graduated to the director's chair via a series of low-budget second features.
Vsevolod Illarionovitch Pudovkin's major contribution to the cinema is as a theorist. He was fascinated by the efforts of his teacher, the filmmaker Lev Kuleshov, in exploring the effects of montage. As Pudovkin eventually did in his own work, Kuleshov often created highly emotional moments by rapidly intercutting shots of diverse content. Of course, the results could be manipulated. In The End of St. Petersburg, for instance, Pudovkin mixed together shots of stock market speculation with those depicting war casualties.
The public persona of Austrian-born Otto Preminger has epitomized for many the typical Hollywood movie director: an accented, autocratic, European-born disciplinarian who terrorized his actors, bullied his subordinates, and spent millions of dollars to ensure that his films be produced properly, although economically. Before the Cahiers du cinema critics began to praise Preminger, it may have been this public persona, more than anything else, that impeded an appreciation of Preminger's extraordinarily subtle style or thematic consistencies.
Between the years 1942 and 1957, English director Michael Powell and his Hungarian partner, Emeric Pressburger, formed one of the most remarkable partnerships in cinema. Under the collaborative pseudonym ?The Archers,? the two created a series of highly visual and imaginative treatments of romantic and supernatural themes that have defied easy categorization by film historians.
?The art of the theatre is reborn under another form and will realize unprecedented prosperity. A new field is open to the dramatist enabling him to produce works that neither Sophocles, Racine, nor Moli?re had the means to attempt.? With these words, Marcel Pagnol greeted the advent of synchronous sound to the motion picture, and announced his conversion to the new medium. The words also served to launch a debate, carried on for the most part with Ren? Clair, in which Pagnol argued for the primacy of text over image in what he saw as the onset of a new age of filmed theater.
Bryher, writing in Close Up in 1927, noted that ?it is the thought and feeling that line gesture that interest Mr. Pabst. And he has what few have, a consciousness of Europe. He sees psychologically and because of this, because in a flash he knows the sub-conscious impulse or hunger that prompted an apparently trivial action, his intense realism becomes, through its truth, poetry.?
Throughout his career, Yasujiro Ozu worked in the mainstream film industry. Obedient to his role, loyal to his studio (the mighty Shochiku), he often compared himself to the tofu salesman, offering nourishing but supremely ordinary wares. For some critics, his greatness stems from his resulting closeness to the everyday realities of Japanese life. Yet since his death another critical perspective has emerged.
Max Oph?ls's work falls neatly into three periods, marked by geographical locations and diverse production conditions, yet linked by common thematic concerns and stylistic/formal procedures: the pre-Second World War European period (during which he made films in four countries and four languages); the four Hollywood films of the late 1940s (to which one might add the remarkable Howard Hughes-produced Vendetta, on which he worked extensively in its early pre-production phases and which bears many identifiable Oph?lsian traces, both thematic and stylistic); and the four films made in
Mikio Naruse belongs in the second echelon of Japanese directors of his generation, along with Gosho, Ozu, and Kinoshita. This group ranks behind Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, Ichikawa, and Kobayashi, who broke out beyond the bounds of the conventions of the Japanese cinema, whereas Naruse and the others were mostly content to work within it. This is not to say that all of them did not tackle contemporary as well as historical subjects.
F.W. Murnau was studying with Max Reinhardt when the First World War began. He was called up for military service, and after achieving his lieutenancy, he was transferred to the air service, where he served as a combat pilot. But his plane was forced down in Switzerland, where he was interned for the duration. Through the German Embassy, however, he managed to direct several independent stage productions, and he began his lifelong dedication to the motion picture, compiling propaganda film materials and editing them.
By any standard Kenji Mizoguchi must be considered among the world's greatest directors. Known in the West for the final half-dozen films which crowned his career, Mizoguchi considered himself a popular as well as a serious artist. He made eighty-five films during his career, evidence of that popularity. Like John Ford, Mizoguchi is one of the few directorial geniuses to play a key role in a major film industry. In fact, Mizoguchi once headed the vast union governing all production personnel in Japan, and was awarded more than once the industry's most coveted citations.
Leo McCarey has always presented auteur criticism with one of its greatest challenges and one that has never been convincingly met. The failure to do so should be seen as casting doubt on the validity of auteurism (in its cruder and simpler forms) rather than on the value of the McCarey oeuvre. He worked consistently (and apparently quite uncomplainingly) within the dominant codes of shooting and editing that comprise the anonymous ?classical Hollywood? style; the films that bear his name as director, ranging from Duck Soup to The Bells of St.
Douglas Sirk's critical reputation has almost completely reversed from the time when he was a popular studio director at Universal in the 1950s. He was regarded by contemporary critics as a lightweight director of soap operas who showcased the talents of Universal name stars such as Rock Hudson and Lana Turner. His films often were labelled ?women's pictures,? with all of the pejorative connotations that term suggested.
Along with Sj?str?m, Stiller, and Bergman, Sj?berg must be counted as one of the most significant directors of the Swedish cinema, and indeed as the most important in that long period between the departure of Sj?str?m and Stiller for Hollywood and the establishment of Bergman as a mature talent. However, it is hard not to agree with the judgement of Peter Cowie when he states that Sj?berg "is hampered by a want of thematic drive, for he is not preoccupied, like Bergman, with a personal vision.
With a career in film that in many ways paralleled that of his close friend Mauritz Stiller, Victor Sj?str?m entered the Swedish film industry at virtually the same time (1912), primarily as an actor, only to become almost immediately, like Stiller, a film director. Whereas Stiller had spent his youth in Finland, Sj?str?m had spent six formative years as a child in America's Brooklyn. Once back in Sweden after an unhappy childhood, his training for the theater proved fruitful. He became a well-established actor before entering the film industry at the age of thirty-two.
William Wyler's career is an excellent argument for nepotism. Wyler went to work for ?Uncle? Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal, and learned the movie business as assistant director and then director of programmers, mainly westerns. One of his first important features, A House Divided, demonstrates many of the qualities that mark his films through the next decades. A transparent imitation of Eugene O'Neill's Desire under the Elms, it contains evidence of the staging strategies that identify Wyler's distinctive mise-en-sc?ne.
During the course of his directorial career, Billy Wilder succeeded in offending just about everybody. He offended the public, who shunned several of his movies as decisively as they flocked to others; he offended the press with Ace in the Hole, the U.S. Congress with A Foreign Affair, the Hollywood establishment with Sunset Boulevard ("This Wilder should be horsewhipped!" fumed Louis B. Mayer), and religious leaders with Kiss Me, Stupid; he offended the critics, both those who found him too cynical and those who found him not cynical enough.
Although he is primarily remembered as the director of the cult horror films Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and The Bride of Frankenstein, James Whale contributed much more to the cinema. He also handled such stylish and elegant productions as Waterloo Bridge and One More River, which had little critical impact when they were first released and are, unfortunately, largely unknown today.
William Wellman's critical reputation is in many respects still in a state of flux long after re-evaluations and recent screenings of his major films should have established some consensus of opinion regarding his place in the pantheon of film directors. While there is some tentative agreement that he is, if nothing else, a competent journeyman director capable of producing entertaining male-dominated action films, other opinions reflect a wide range of artistic evaluations, ranging from comparisons to D.W. Griffith to outright condemnations of his films as clumsy and uninspired.
References to Orson Welles as one of America's most influential directors and Citizen Kane as one of the great American films have become a simplistic way to encapsulate Welles's unique contribution to cinema. It is a contribution which seems obvious but is difficult to adequately summarize without examining his complex career.
Raoul Walsh's extraordinary career spanned the history of the American motion picture industry from its emergence, through its glory years in the 1930s and 1940s, and into the television era. Like his colleagues Alan Dwan, King Vidor, John Ford, and Henry King, whose careers also covered fifty years, Walsh continuously turned out popular fare, including several extraordinary hits. Movie fans have long appreciated the work of this director's director.
Erich von Stroheim had two complementary careers in cinema, that of actor-director, primarily during the silent period, and that of distinguished character actor when his career as a director was frustrated as a result of his inability to bring his genius to terms with the American film industry.
There is a sense in which Josef von Sternberg never grew up. In his personality, the twin urges of the disturbed adolescent toward self-advertisement and self-effacement fuse with a brilliant visual imagination to create an artistic vision unparalleled in the cinema. But von Sternberg lacked the cultivation of Murnau, the sophistication of his mentor von Stroheim, the humanity of Griffith, or the ruthlessness of Chaplin. His imagination remained immature, and his personality was malicious and obsessive. His films reflect a schoolboy's fascination with sensuality and heroics.
It is difficult to think of another director who made so few films and yet had such a profound influence on other filmmakers. Jean Vigo's ? propos de Nice, his first film, is his contribution to the French surrealist movement. The film itself is a direct descendant of Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera. Certainly, his films make political statements similar to those seen in Vertov's work. Vertov's documentary celebrates a people's revolution, while Vigo's chastises the bourgeois vacationers in a French resort town.
King Vidor began work in Hollywood as a company clerk for Universal, submitting original scripts under the pseudonym Charles K. Wallis. (Universal employees weren't allowed to submit original work to the studio.) Vidor eventually confessed his wrongdoing and was fired as a clerk, only to be rehired as a comedy writer. Within days, he lost this job as well when Universal discontinued comedy production.
The films of Edgar G. Ulmer have generally been classified as ?B? pictures. However, it might be more appropriate to reclassify some of these films as ?Z? pictures. On an average, Ulmer?s pictures were filmed on a six-day shooting schedule with budgets as small as $20,000. He often worked without a decent script, adequate sets, or convincing actors. But these hardships did not prevent Ulmer from creating an individual style within his films.
Maurice Tourneur is one of the greatest pictorialists of the cinema, deriving his aesthetic from his early associations with Rodin and Puvis de Chavannes. Having worked for Andr? Antoine as an actor and producer, he joined the Eclair Film Company in 1912 and travelled to their American Studios at Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1914. There he directed films based on successful stage plays. In The Wishing Ring it is possible to see the charm and visual beauty he brought to his work.
The first director Val Lewton hired for his RKO unit was Jacques Tourneur, and the first picture made by that unit was Cat People, an original screenplay by De Witt Bodeen.
Like the other two distinguished pioneers of the early Swedish cinema, Sj?str?m and Sj?berg, Mauritz Stiller had an essentially theatrical background. But it must be remembered that he was reared in Finland of Russian-Jewish stock, did not emigrate to Sweden until he was twenty-seven, and remained there only fifteen years before going to Hollywood.
Katharine Hepburn had originally been responsible for bringing George Stevens to the attention of those in the front office. He had directed a great many two-reelers for Hal Roach, and was just entering films as a director of features when Hepburn met him, liked him, and asked that he be assigned as director to her next film, Alice Adams. It was a giant step forward for Stevens, but Alice Adams, from the Booth Tarkington novel, was a project right up his alley.
John Stahl was a key figure in the development of the Hollywood ?women's melodrama? during the 1930s and 1940s, and quite possibly in the 1910s and 1920s as well. Although he began directing in 1914, and apparently made as many films before sound as after, only two of his silents (Her Code of Honor and Suspicious Wives) seem to have survived. Yet this is hardly the only reason that the ultimate critical and historical significance of his work remains to be established.
Rouben Mamoulian is certainly one of the finest directors in American film history. While not considered strictly an auteur with a unifying theme running through his films, the importance of each of his movies on an individual basis is significant. Mamoulian did not have a large output, having completed only sixteen assignments in his twenty-year career in motion pictures, principally because he was also very active in the theater.
Claude Autant-Lara is best known for his post-World War II films in the French ?tradition of quality.? His earliest work in the industry was more closely related to the avant-garde movements of the 1920s than to the mainstream commercial cinema with which he was later identified. He began as a set designer in the 1920s, serving as art director for several of Marcel L'Herbier's films, including L'Inhumaine, and for Jean Renoir's Nana; he also assisted Ren? Clair on a number of his early shorts.
Unlike many other Soviet filmmakers, whose works are boldly and aggressively didactic, Alexander Dovzhenko's cinematic output is personal and fervently private. His films are clearly political, yet at the same time he is the first Russian director whose art is so emotional, so vividly his own. His best films, Arsenal, Earth, and Ivan, are all no less than poetry on celluloid. Their emotional and poetic expression, almost melancholy simplicity, and celebration of life ultimately obliterate any external event in their scenarios.
For much of his forty-year career, the public and the critics associated Cecil B. De Mille with a single kind of film, the epic. He certainly made a great many of them: The Sign of the Cross, The Crusades, King of Kings, two versions of The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Show on Earth, and others. As a result, De Mille became a symbol of Hollywood during its ?Golden Age.? He represented that which was larger than life, often too elaborate, but always entertaining.
George Cukor's films range from classics like Greta Garbo's Camille, to Adam's Rib with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, to the Judy Garland musical A Star Is Born. Throughout the years he managed to ?weather the changes in public taste and the pressures of the Hollywood studio system without compromising his style, his taste, or his ethical standards,? as his honorary degree from Loyola University of Chicago is inscribed. Indeed, Cukor informed each of the stories he brought to the screen with his affectionately critical view of humanity.
Jean Cocteau's contribution to cinema is as eclectic as one would expect from a man who fulfilled on occasion the roles of poet and novelist, dramatist and graphic artist, and dabbled in such diverse media as ballet and sculpture. In addition to his directorial efforts, Cocteau also wrote scripts and dialogue, made acting appearances, and realized amateur films. His work in other media has inspired adaptations by a number of filmmakers ranging from Rossellini to Franju and Demy, and he himself published several collections of eclectic and stimulating thoughts on the film medium.
In a country like France where good taste is so admired, Henri-Georges Clouzot has been a shocking director. A film critic during the age of surrealism, Clouzot was always eager to assault his audience with his style and concerns.
Ren? Cl?ment was the most promising filmmaker to emerge in France at the end of World War II. He became the most technically adroit and interesting of the makers of ?quality? films during the 1950s, only to see his career begin to disappoint the critics. In the years of the New Wave it was Cl?ment, above all, who tied the older generation to the younger, especially through a film like Purple Noon. In a more recent phase he was associated with grand-scale dramas (Is Parts Burning?) and with small, personal, lyric films (Rider on the Rain).
During the 1930s, when the French cinema reigned intellectually preeminent, Ren? Clair ranked with Renoir and Carn? as one of its greatest directors?perhaps the most archetypally French of them all. His reputation has since fallen (as has Carn?'s), and comparison with Renoir may suggest why. Clair's work, though witty, stylish, charming, and technically accomplished, seems to lack a dimension when compared with the work of Renoir; there is a certain over-simplification, a fastidious turning away from the messier, more complex aspects of life.
Charles Chaplin was the first and the greatest international star of the American silent comic cinema. He was also the twentieth century's first media ?superstar,? the first artistic creator and popularized creature of our global culture. His face, onscreen antics, and offscreen scandals were disseminated around the globe by new media that knew no geographical or linguistic boundaries. But more than this, Chaplin was the first acknowledged artistic genius of the cinema, recognized as such by a young and influential generation of writers and artists including George Bernard Shaw, H.G.
At a time when film schools were non-existent and training in filmmaking was acquired through assistantship, no one could have been better prepared for a brilliant career than Marcel Carn?. He worked as assistant to Ren? Clair on the first important French sound film, Sous les toits de Paris, and to Jacques Feyder on the latter's three great films of 1934-35.
The critical stock of Frank Capra has fluctuated perhaps more wildly than that of any other major director. During his peak years, the 1930s, he was adored by the press, by the industry and, of course, by audiences. In 1934 It Happened One Night won nearly all the Oscars, and through the rest of the decade a film of Frank Capra was either the winner or the strong contender for that honor. Long before the formulation of the auteur theory, the Capra signature on a film was recognized. But after World War II his career went into serious decline.
For all the critical attention (and furious critical controversy) his work occasioned over half a century, Luis Bu?uel resisted our best taxonomical efforts. To begin with, while no artist of this century strikes one as more quintessentially Spanish than Bu?uel, how can one apply the term ?Spanish filmmaker? to a man whose oeuvre is far more nearly identified with France and Mexico than with the land of his birth?
Although his namesake was the poet Robert Browning, Tod Browning became recognized as a major Hollywood cult director whose work bore some resemblance to the sensibilities of a much different writer: Edgar Allen Poe. However, unlike Poe, Tod Browning was, by all accounts, a quiet and gentle man who could nonetheless rise to sarcasm and sardonic remarks when necessary to bring out the best from his players or to ward off interference from the front office.
Robert Bresson began and quickly gave up a career as a painter, turning to cinema in 1934. The short film he made that year, Affaires publiques, is never shown. His next work, Les Anges du p?ch?, was his first feature film, followed by Les Dames du Bois du Boulogne and Journal d'un cur? de campagne, which firmly established his reputation as one of the world's most rigorous and demanding filmmakers.
Frank Borzage had a rare gift of taking characters, even those who were children of violence, and fashioning a treatment of them abundant with lyrical romanticism and tenderness, even a spirituality that reformed them and their story.
No American film director of his time explored the possibilities of the mobile camera more fully or ingeniously than Busby Berkeley. He was the M?li?s of the musical, the corollary of Vertov in the exploration of the possibilities of cinematic movement. His influence has since been felt in a wide array of filmmaking sectors, from movie musicals to television commercials.
Next to Jean Gr?millon, Jacques Becker is surely the most neglected of France's great directors. Known in France for Goupi Mains rouges and Antoine et Antoinette, his only film to reach an international critical audience was Casque d'Or. But from 1942 to 1959, Becker fashioned thirteen films, none of which could be called a failure and each of which merits respect and attention.
Carl Theodor Dreyer is the greatest filmmaker in the Danish cinema, where he was always a solitary personality. But he is also among the few international directors who turned films into an art and made them a new means of expression for the artistic genius. Of Dreyer's feature films, seven were produced in Denmark, three in Germany, two in France, two in Sweden, and one in Norway.
Sergei Eisenstein is generally considered to be one of the most important figures?perhaps the most important figure?in the history of cinema. But he was not only the leading director and theorist of Soviet cinema in his own lifetime, he was also a theatre and opera director, scriptwriter, graphic artist, teacher, and critic. His contemporaries called him quite simply "the Master."
Robert Flaherty was already thirty-six years old when he set out to make a film, Nanook of the North. Before that he had established himself as a prospector, surveyor, and explorer, having made several expeditions to the sub-Arctic regions of the Hudson Bay. He had shot motion picture footage on two of these occasions, but before Nanook, filmmaking was only a sideline.
Few directors since Louis Lumi?re have enjoyed such total control over their films. As inventor of the cin?matographe, the first camera-cum-projector, he determined not only the subjects but also the aesthetics of early cinema. A scientist devoted to the plastic arts, Lumi?re initially specialized in outdoor photography. This experience, coupled with an appreciation of framing, perspective, and light values in a composition, informed his pioneering films.
Ernst Lubitsch's varied career is often broken down into periods to emphasize the spectrum of his talents?from an actor in Max Reinhardt's Berlin Theater Company to head of production at Paramount. Each of these periods could well provide enough material for a sizeable book. It is probably most convenient to divide Lubitsch's output into three phases: his German films between 1913 and 1922; his Hollywood films from 1923 to 1934; and his Hollywood productions from 1935 till his death in 1947.
Joseph Losey's career spanned five decades and included work in both theater and film. Latterly an American expatriate living in Europe, the early years of his life as a director were spent in the very different milieus of New Deal political theater projects and the paranoia of the Hollywood studio system during the McCarthy era. He was blacklisted in 1951 and left America for England where he continued making films, at first under a variety of pseudonyms.