Grumpy Old Directors

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
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david hare
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#1 Post by david hare » Thu May 18, 2006 7:30 pm

After my blast at Death in Venice, Zedz has suggested we start a thread for, but not limited to the - ahem - posters of "un certain age" who in their accumulated years of wisdom and of course impeccable taste feel the need to pronounce from on high on the failings of once great directors.

Late Visconti is always treacherous - only Conversation Piece really seems assured in tone.

Late Hitchcock is also a pronounced disappointment. (although how could anyone follow Marnie and the Birds?)
Aldrich is a staggering case of incredible talent gone awry later in his career. How someone capable of making Kiss me Deadly could turn out something as grotesque as the Choirboys is beyond me. Only Hustle of the late pics is of interest, and even it is compromised to a degree by not great production values (but the casting of Deneuve and Reynolds is inspired.)

the only directors who really hold it together for the big finale are Bunuel, Ozu and Mizo. Any others? Manuel de Oliviera? (and he isn't even dead yet.)

There are many others, of course.

Come on whiners!!!!

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zedz
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#2 Post by zedz » Thu May 18, 2006 8:29 pm

Accentuating the positive:

Dreyer keeps it up till the end with Gertrud (maybe not a majority opinion).

Rohmer is still batting away with relative consistency (and even some unexpected innovation in The Lady and the Duke).

I find L'Argent a big finale. I'm not so fond of Le diable probablement, but a single film doesn't make for a decline.

And to end on an appropriately curmudgeonly note: she's wildly idiosyncratic, but Kira Muratova has made at least one inimitable masterpiece in each of the last five decades. Chekhovian Motifs would probably rub a lot of viewers up any manner of wrong ways, but it shows that she's still at the height of her peculiar powers.

Noting all of the great directors who have declined into mediocre or frankly dire production in their twilight (or even early afternoon) years would be depressing and argumentative (and OK, I concede that it's already official that Woody Allen and Federico Fellini never made a bad film, not even Celebrity), but They Are Legion (one of Scorsese's favourite films, I hear).

P.S. this should probably be in 'Old Films' - and who are you calling 'old', David?

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david hare
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#3 Post by david hare » Thu May 18, 2006 10:52 pm

Lemme get the ear trumpet z.

I DID start this in the old films but that ole mod switched it over!

DAMN -zimmer frame fell over. (Cartoon balloon and thought-dialogue bubble:
"trapped under the computer...damn hound chewing feet,.... Floxy ...FLOXY!!! God, not the Lupe Velez fadeout!!!")

marty

#4 Post by marty » Thu May 18, 2006 11:18 pm

Ingmar Bergman - Saraband is great!

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sevenarts
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#5 Post by sevenarts » Fri May 19, 2006 12:10 am

marty wrote:Ingmar Bergman - Saraband is great!
it was at least good, to be sure.

robert altman shows every sign of continuing strong well into his later years, prairie home companion looks like it's going to be pure vintage altman.

godard is an arguable case, but the very least you can say is that he's remained creative and intriguing through all his various phases.

herzog is maybe not really old yet, but he's certainly had a long career and i think his recent documentary work is as strong as ever, the man shows no signs of slowing up or losing his touch.

kubrick's final film is my favorite of his.


i'm not very grumpy i guess.

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#6 Post by david hare » Fri May 19, 2006 12:22 am

Grumpiness not essential.

Even I feel happy today (Paris two weeks four days away...)

Is anyone up for discussing George Stevens? Greatest Story ever Told and the Only Game in Town??? Dare you!!

One cataclysmic decline was Negulesco - an extremely interesting studio director who just seemed to go to pot with Scope and Fox during the 50s (with the grand exception of Rona Jaffe's Best of Everything. A kind of precursor to Valley of the Dolls, with class. And Crawford. And hunk Stephen Boyd.)

Also Russ Meyer whose late "ultra" pix really miss the boat for me in terms of excessive self-consciousness.

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#7 Post by bufordsharkley » Sun May 21, 2006 11:28 pm

Add to the list of great directors, late in their career, Fritz Lang.

The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, while not the equal of the first two in the series, is still quite tremendous, and tremendous fun. Lang still had a load of inventiveness, as well as craft, even in his last film.

...It anticipated almost everything that the James Bond series tried, and as a film, outdistanced all of 'em.

It's similar to the first two, in the breakneck pacing, but is notable for its utter, brilliant ridiculousness. The shooting-in-the-van scene may be the most casually nutszoid thing I've ever seen.

A late, underappreciated masterpiece.

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zedz
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#8 Post by zedz » Mon May 22, 2006 12:10 am

Oh well, I guess this thread proves the first rule of the internet: There is No Such Thing as Consensus.

The premise of this discussion isn't about directors who still manage to make the odd good film in their later years, but ones who manage to continue performing consistently at the top of their game right up until the end. (This is the sort of theing that used top be taken as read by extreme auteurists).

I'd consider Herzog and Altman to be two strong examples of the general rule, rather than exceptions. It's surely a minority opinion that Altman's body of work over the last ten years is the equal of his 1970s output, and if you consider Herzog's fiction films of the past twenty years, it's a pretty sorry story. Documentary-wise, he still manages to churn out excellence at a regular (but by no means clockwork) rate, but even here he's surely far patchier than during his 70s heyday (Fata Morgana, Land of Silence and Darkness, La Soufriere, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner: that's a tough run to beat).

At the risk of forever alienating David, I'm afraid I find Lang's late German films completely mediocre compared to best of his early German and American work (ducks to dodge an Ignatzian brick).

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#9 Post by david hare » Mon May 22, 2006 1:23 am

It's good we're disagreeing because it raises discussion. I LOVE Lang's final movies - Tausend Augen and the Indian pictures. They seem so stripped back and essential (a little like Ulmer's sublime Amazing Transparent Man and Beyond the Time Barrier which are outstanding pieces of minimalism shot back-to-back.) The last Langs seem to be like some final cyclical summation of everything he did.

I haven't dared to put out this one out yet but I have serious problems these days with much of Renoir's post war work. Partly in reaction to a renewed immersion in the 30s pictures, and partly simply in reaction to many deficits that now seem quite vexing. But need time to work on this.

Certainly, for those of us who value Carne and his work up to les Enfants (the weakest of these movies to me) stuff like therese Desqueyroux and les Tricheurs are frankly atrocious, with only the otherwise completely routine 'Air de Paris lighting up by virtue of its extremely amusing dollops of gay text and characters. It's not so much that the late movies are coarsened, like the late Visconti's, but that without the great screenwriters and ebb and flow of the 30s cultural tides he just settles for the routine.

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#10 Post by Joe Buck » Mon May 22, 2006 6:48 pm

I didn't like Marnie. Or Topaz. Aside from the Hotel sequence.

I think Frenzy was quite good.

I also find alot to like in "Torn Curtain". I know I am in the minority there....

Family Plot? Harmless. I don't mind it. Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it moves along pretty well.

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#11 Post by GringoTex » Mon May 22, 2006 7:09 pm

davidhare wrote:
the only directors who really hold it together for the big finale are Bunuel, Ozu and Mizo. Any others? Manuel de Oliviera? (and he isn't even dead yet.)

There are many others, of course.

Come on whiners!!!!
Becker, Vigo, and Christopher MacClaine.

I know- I'm cheating.

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#12 Post by justeleblanc » Mon May 22, 2006 7:25 pm

Preminger gets a bad wrap for Skidoo and everything after, but these are some of my favorite Premingers.

Orson Welles of course! F for Fake, Filming Othello, Chimes at Midnight!

Lubitsch stayed fresh toward the end. Cluny Brown and Heaven Can Wait are absolute gems.

John Ford.... Louis Malle.... Polanski.... it doesn't appear to be too uncommon for directors to keep it up when they get old.

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#13 Post by david hare » Mon May 22, 2006 8:09 pm

Who can forget Sirk's magnificent farewell to movies with Imitation of Life.

Fassbinder remained compelling (his life obviously cut too short) although people differ about Querelle. I love it but in any case 13 Moons is staggering. As are Veronika Voss, Lola, and Berlin AlexanderPlatz.

Sternberg after the strange (but amusing) Hughesian camp hiccup of Jet Pilot, with Anatahan.

Ford's incredibly, nostalgically set-bound Seven Women (where is THIS DVD?)

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#14 Post by sevenarts » Mon May 22, 2006 8:42 pm

zedz wrote:and if you consider Herzog's fiction films of the past twenty years, it's a pretty sorry story. Documentary-wise, he still manages to churn out excellence at a regular (but by no means clockwork) rate, but even here he's surely far patchier than during his 70s heyday (Fata Morgana, Land of Silence and Darkness, La Soufriere, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner: that's a tough run to beat).
i'm not going to argue you about herzog's latest fiction films, but it seems to me not so much a case of him falling off in the usual sense as largely losing interest in the form, especially as compared with documentary. i mean, how many fiction films has he even made in the last 20 years? three? i'd say it's a clear-cut case that herzog is just infinitely more interested in documentary subjects at this point, and that probably shows through a bit when he does do a fiction project. i still have a lot of later herzog to see, but as far as documentaries go i'd certainly rank little dieter, lessons of darkness and white diamond up there with his finest documentary work, and even with his earliest features. and grizzly man was great as well, and i'm very much looking forward to wild blue yonder and wheel of time. i think at the very least lessons and dieter should be in any list of his best films.

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#15 Post by GringoTex » Tue May 23, 2006 8:25 am

davidhare wrote: Aldrich is a staggering case of incredible talent gone awry later in his career. How someone capable of making Kiss me Deadly could turn out something as grotesque as the Choirboys is beyond me. Only Hustle of the late pics is of interest, and even it is compromised to a degree by not great production values (but the casting of Deneuve and Reynolds is inspired.)
Claude Chabrol offers an eloquent defense of later Altman:
Dialectic and wiliness: the new Aldrich had arrived.

What followed was rich with irony. The next twelve films [after Dirty Dozen], pure jewels, made either within or outside the system -- unforgettable, iconoclastic works of admirable energy and daring -- were received by his old admirers (apart from, perhaps, Positif) with a shocked expression. Of course it's difficult to accept, out of the blue, red Indians toying with skulls, pathetic old lesbian alcoholics, mocking Japanese officers, cops in silk stockings and suspenders, neuropathic soldiers indulging in nuvlear blackmail, and violent femaile wrestlers.

But it's part and parcel of the Aldrich dialectic that this world, alas, is not made for weaklings. It's either him or us.

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#16 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue May 23, 2006 8:42 am

Vigo is more than cheating... died practically a boy with 3, more like 2.5 features under his belt!

Glad to see you recovered your identity there, Lumperdito, uh senor Hare.

Shnauzer! You're not that sensitive... if you know what I mean, if I guessed what you meant by the moniker.....

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#17 Post by Gigi M. » Tue May 23, 2006 8:46 am

John Huston was great until the very end. Except for Annie, his later films are great if not amazing.

Victory (1981)
Under the Volcano (1984)
Prizzi's Honor (1985)
The Dead (1987)

What a great farewell

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#18 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue May 23, 2006 9:59 am

Indeed! THE DEAD may be the most moving sign-off by a director in the annals of filmdom. I remember my mom taking me to see that when it came out, and how blown away I was. Just a sublime film. Has anyone seen the Kino-released doc JOHN HUSTON AND THE DUBLINERS? It's a made-on-set documentary about the making of the film, presumably with access to all involved. They released it somewhere around the same time as VISIONS OF LIGHT, I believe. Not sure if they have it on DVD, but definitely VHS (but not in sweden, so discs are allowed :wink: ).

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#19 Post by tryavna » Tue May 23, 2006 10:27 am

gigimonagas wrote:John Huston was great until the very end. Except for Annie, his later films are great if not amazing.

Victory (1981)
Under the Volcano (1984)
Prizzi's Honor (1985)
The Dead (1987)

What a great farewell
I agree, and I'd also add that, although The Dead (deservedly) garners most of the attention paid to very late Huston, Under the Volcano is just as superb a film in its own way. It's resolutely anti-nostalgic in contrast to The Dead, but it's as fine an example of how to film an "unfilmable" novel as you're likely to come across. Of course, I think Huston ranks among the finest cinematic adapters of great literature ever -- from popular entertainments like Maltese Falcon and Man Who Would Be King to thoughtful "problem" stories like Red Badge of Courage and Night of the Iguana to more self-consciously artistic efforts like The Dead and Under the Volcano.

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#20 Post by tavernier » Tue May 23, 2006 11:48 am

tryavna wrote:
gigimonagas wrote:John Huston was great until the very end. Except for Annie, his later films are great if not amazing.

Victory (1981)
Under the Volcano (1984)
Prizzi's Honor (1985)
The Dead (1987)

What a great farewell
I agree, and I'd also add that, although The Dead (deservedly) garners most of the attention paid to very late Huston, Under the Volcano is just as superb a film in its own way. It's resolutely anti-nostalgic in contrast to The Dead, but it's as fine an example of how to film an "unfilmable" novel as you're likely to come across. Of course, I think Huston ranks among the finest cinematic adapters of great literature ever -- from popular entertainments like Maltese Falcon and Man Who Would Be King to thoughtful "problem" stories like Red Badge of Courage and Night of the Iguana to more self-consciously artistic efforts like The Dead and Under the Volcano.
Can someone explain to me what is so special about The Dead? I found it to be Huston's biggest disappointment and a complete comedown after Prizzi.

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#21 Post by chaddoli » Tue May 23, 2006 1:54 pm

John Cassavetes. Love Streams.

Definitely among Cassavetes very best work. A strange film to be sure, but a great one.

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#22 Post by justeleblanc » Tue May 23, 2006 2:13 pm

chaddoli wrote:John Cassavetes. Love Streams.

Definitely among Cassavetes very best work. A strange film to be sure, but a great one.
Yes but sandwiched between two weaker efforts, not to mention he wasn't that old.

But is this me or is this sounding a lot like a List.

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#23 Post by chaddoli » Tue May 23, 2006 2:35 pm

Well I don't think Big Trouble is technically considered a true Cassavetes film. I haven't seen it, but I remember Ray Carney writing about how it wasn't actually "his."

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#24 Post by zedz » Tue May 23, 2006 10:29 pm

justeleblanc wrote: But is this me or is this sounding a lot like a List.
Agreed. I guess definitions of greatness are so variable and contestable that Senor Lumpo's and my thesis is never going to progress beyond a list of specific disagreements along the lines of "Well, I thought The Osterman Weekend was pretty good." What I was hoping for was more of an interrogation of old auteurist assumptions, with its no-exit pantheons.

I still think the list of uncontestable late masters is pretty small.

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#25 Post by david hare » Tue May 23, 2006 11:42 pm

I still think an interesting direction for this thread is the REASONS for an artist's decline. There's nothing wrong with it meandering along as it has been, but that's interesting to me. Not to mention - as you say - some real challenges to ancient auteurism. Thus previously reviled Huston, or neglected/ignored Negulesco, etc. I'm realizing as I waffle on about Visconti how growing older leads to real decline in some artists and real concentration of greatness in others. but WHY? A friend has pointed out in Visconti's case the first stroke came around the time of Ludwig and he was never physically well thereafter.

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