Saturday, June 03, 2006

An Auteur Walks Into A Bar And Says.........

Hearing some of the news coming out of Cannes regarding Richard Kelly's SOUTHLAND TALES inspired this post. It's about directors (and writer/directors) who really need someone over their shoulder, helping guide them sometimes.

Because sometimes, well, many times, they'd make a much better movie if only they listened to other opinions.

Look, I don't know if Southland sucks or not, who knows, it might blow me away. But EVERY review has been horrible, so it doesn't look good for it. Even Richard Kelly was quoted to say something like "I'm not sure what we're going to do........" Not a good sign.

You see, these guys are given too much rope, and often hang themselves with it. Here's some good and bad examples:

Richard Kelly - He did Donnie Darko, which I liked. Not loved. Mainly because of his music choices, when you think about it, that movie loses a ton of power at the end if you take away the cover of Tears For Fears "Mad World." But regardless, it's a great debut. Apparently, he's dropped the ball on Southland. We'll see.

Terrence Malick - Didn't see the New World yet, but I'm mainly referring to Thin Red Line. It was a good movie, but wildly overrated by some. If you take out 40 minutes of gibberish you'd have a kick-ass movie. And I'm not talking about action scenes. Jarhead didn't have much "action" but I was enthralled by it. No, I'm talking about the gibberish while we see a 10 minute shot of morning dew....and then a lady bug walks by! Dude, this is a war movie, and the grunts you are portraying aren't staring off into the dense foilage thinking "Where's the light within." No, they're thinking "I hope I get out of these fucking woods alive without an assful of malaria."

Quentin Tarantino - Did we really need two movies (3+ hours) of Kill Bill? Hell, no. He's pissing away his talent on that crap. Did it have some cool sequences and kick-ass fights? Sure, but c'mon. We didn't need two movies. Saw Jackie Brown the other night on HBO again, good damn movie. Somebody should've pulled him aside and said "Dude, make one kick-ass 2 hour movie and move on."

Peter Jackson - I loved King Kong. But it was too damn long. There was no reason to make that movie 3 hours long. Again, Kong as a 2 hour flick would kick major ass, we simply didn't need to know that much about old NY and who really cares that her play is shutting down. Snooze, bring on the monkey!

Georgie Lucas - I've ranted about this one too many times, so I won't get into it too much. He's a master of production & F/X, I just wish he had let someone else write and direct the prequels. They're your babies George? Sure, ok, crackhead mothers have babies, too, and they aren't the best mothers in the world.

Cameron Crowe - Elizabethtown - nice idea for a movie, but it seems like something some low-budget indie kid from Mumblefuck USA might make. Nothing wrong with making a personal story, but at least make it interesting.

Some good examples:

PT Anderson - Magnolia walks the line, but I was blown away by it, and with Hard 8 & Boogie Nights also under his belt, this dude knows what he's doing. Punch-Drunk Love is terrific in my book.

Wes Anderson - his Amex commercial reminds me of why I like him. He could have made The Life Aquatic 3 hours long I'm sure. But he didn't. And while it was no Royal Tennenbaums or Rushmore or even Bottle Rocket, well, his other movies are Royal Tennebaums, Rushmore & Bottle Rocket, and The Life Aquatic makes a fine addition.

Marty - Gangs of NY walks the line, too, but it's got a lot of story to tell. Unfortunately, most of that story is a pretty lame revenge tale, but it's still a fascinating film, and Daniel Day-Lewis absolutely blows my mind in that one. The Aviator wasn't my cup of tea, but it seems like he's back on track with The Departed.

Jimmy Cameron - Yeah, Titanic was long, but at least it didn't take 2 hours to get onto it, you were on it from the beginning. Plus much of it is brilliant filmmaking. He's sure taking his time with his next feature film follow-up though, hopefully it'll be worth the wait.

Look, all of these guys are great filmmakers, don't get me wrong. But sometimes, they're not right, and maybe during the writing phase (like Richard Kelly or QT) someone should have torn apart their scripts instead of just nodding their heads screaming "brilliant!"

Any other examples?


Scott the Reader said...

M. Night Shyamalan and Woody Allen are both guys who could use a few script notes before shooting their own stuff.

aaron said...

okay, gotta play a little defense here.

In defense of Malick: The best quote I've read/heard regarding why that film may have flaws is during an interview with John C. Reilly on an episode of The Treatment. Reilly describes it as Malick not having gone on a date in a while (it'd been 20 years since Days of Heaven) and he just needed to go out and find out what the world of dating is like now. I'll admit I love Thin Red Line but understand why others may not. The New World takes many of the techniques Malick crafted on TTRL and brings it home.

It’s funny, I think The Life Aquatic suffers from the same flaws as Elizabethtown. Life Aquatic is fun but is incredible sloppy, very much like Elizabethtown but no one has questioned whether or not it has anything to do with them both being edited by the same person. But, I’ll agree that someone should have told them not to shoot their first draft.

I don’t think you can compare Kelly to Scorsese or Cameron though because Southland Tales is only his second film. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of Donny Darko (for many of same reasons you listed) and I don’t really care when Southland Tales comes out but I think it’s more appropriate to compare his second film to other second films by directors. In a career of a writer/director they can take wild chances while they explore their filmmaking but a second film is where you find out if a writer/director writer can live up to the hype.

There are many second films which live up to the first and go beyond. PT Anderson (Hard Eight/Boogie Nights), Tarantino (Res. Dogs/Pulp Fiction), Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket/Rushmore), Lucas (don’t forget, Star Wars was his third film… the ones after that sucked…), there are more, obviously…

But don’t forget the filmmakers that stumbled out of the gate the second time only to make their third films great: Spike Lee followed She’s Gotta Have It with School Daze only to then make Do The Right Thing (one of the best American films. Ever. And a part of the ’85-’95 American Independent movement). Soderbergh followed Sex, Lies, and Videotape with Kafka (still interesting) and didn’t really hit his stride until Out of Sight some seven years later. (though, he didn’t write Out of Sight…)

I guess what I’m really trying to get at is that I’m willing to give the writer/director the rope otherwise we may not get some of their best work.

Patrick J. Rodio said...

Aaron, you are 100% right, but it would be nice to maybe take another look or two at these scripts before they put them into production. But I'd rather have disappointing versions than none at all, I suppose.

Tavis said...

Aronofsky: The few things I've heard about The Fountain sound just like what we've been hearing about Southland Tales. And aren't they both being done as Graphic Novels too?

The Coen Brothers: It's hard to say anything bad about them. I really thought Ladykillers was a great piece of filmmaking about language and colloquialism. Hail Caesar will be a blast.

David O. Russell: Huckabees has great moments, but feels a bit strained in some places. It seems to be the movie he wanted to make too much, if you know what I mean. The H-Man Cometh sounds delightfuly weird.

Charlie Kaufman: Can't a writer be an auteur? It's hard to find fault with Kaufman, but my main complaint is that he seems to have gotten lazy since winning that Oscar. Didn't William Goldman point out once that if you look at the track record of Oscar winners there is a gap of a few years before they start a new project.

MsPsycho said...

Nice blog.

Patrick J. Rodio said...

Good point about Russell/Huckabees. I love the acting in huckabees, but I really just want to slap all of them, they truly are speaking gibberish for most of the time.

William said...

I think what happens is the ambition outweighs the experience. Kelly is a perfect example. Donnie Darko was a very impressive first film for anyone. I think he was hungry, young and surrounded by good people who cared about the project. Then he had to deal with Tont Scott in that mega-universe rewriting Domino.

Brad Anderson - a guy I've had on my radar for a while. Session 9 and The Machinist both blew me away for pure atmosphere. I think he's a guy that has a firm grip on what he wants and how to get it.

Aronofsky - Have high hopes for The Fountain just like I do for Southland Tales but who knows?

Fincher - Always runs a finely tuned machine with impressive results.

I think the issue here might also be a by-product of the pressure put on a young filmmaker now more than ever. Like the music industry, once an artist gets a buzz going I think there is a need to keep it going even if it's an independent/underground thing. There is no room to grow and learn.

Do you let a filmmaker make a film his/her way if you are enjoying the results? If not, just throw out The Godfather, Clockwork Orange and Raging Bull. At the end of the day you are hiring that kind of filmmaker to give you something special, someone who completely authors a film.

I mean, who would tolerate the behavior of say, a brilliant Stanley Kubrick in this day and age of micro-managed filmmaking. With his 97 takes and making a film every five years. That was his method of getting what he wanted. When he passed away I knew it was the end of that era of filmmaking. Malick, Altman are a couple who still get that kind of carte blanche.

I'm going on here, last thing. I think the work should be as fined tuned and as focused as it can be but sometimes for reasons no one knows, it just doesn't happen. The planets don't align and when you think of the monumental task of making a film, any film, it's amazing that it actually even happens.

Anonymous said...

to me PT Anderson is the perfect example of someone allowed final cut and should have been reeled in by the studio and slapped on the wrist. Magnolia had moments but they did not flow in perfect synchronicity for me, in fact, there were some painful hands over eyes groaning and looking at wristwatch... but that's just my opinion

writergurl said...

Kill Bill? Gawd. I hated KBI so damn much I REFUSE to watch KBII, even if it is "free" on cable. What a fucking waste of film.

Life Aquatic bored me so much I didn't finish watching it.

Gang of NY? Thank God it was on cable, otherwise I'd of been pissed.

Same for Aviator.

Georgie's "babies"? I heard enough bad crap about them that I just stayed home and I don't seem any worse for it.

Autuers? Hardly. More like one (ok, maybe two) hit wonders who got handed the keys to the kingdom for no real good reason.

aaron said...

I'm sorry writergurl --

"Autuers? Hardly. More like one (ok, maybe two) hit wonders who got handed the keys to the kingdom for no real good reason."

QT -- 1) Res. Dogs, 2) Pulp Fiction 3) Jackie Brown 4) KB... That's three. And I dare anyone to say they at least didn't enjoy themselves while watching Kill Bill 1 in the theater with an audience... I say this and I'm not even a QT fan.

Wes Anderson --
1) Bottle Rocket 2) Rushmore 3) Tennebaums 4) Life Aquatic... that's three again.

Autuers... ehhh, maybe not but after three films that are more interesting and take more chances than most of the shit out there why not give these guys the keys to the kingdom and let them see what they can do. I'd rather see ANYTHING QT or Anderson wrote/directed before going to another Mission Impossible or other Hollywood blockbuster.

And I'm pretty sure Scorsese has earned the right to do about anything he wants. Gangs and Aviator... sure they're misses... espeically on cable... go back and watch his first five films: WHO'S THAT KNOCKING, BOXCAR BERTHA, MEAN STREETS, ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE and TAXI DRIVER. At least three of those are great films.

Lucas owns the kingdom so we'll just have to put up with whatever he wants to do.

Systemaddict said...

*cough Robert Rodriguez cough*

mernitman said...

Many contemporary writers-turned-directors are their own worst enemies. Totally with you on SOUTHLAND which I read and vehemently passed on TWICE at Universal (it was the most noxious obnoxious pretentious pieces of pop culture swill I'd read in years). Must own up to unavoidable schadenfreude at Kelly's egg laid at Cannes...