82nd Oscars - Best Director

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Postby Johnny Guitar » Fri Mar 12, 2010 11:37 am

Saying that the screenwriter is the "true author" of a film isn't tenable either - for one thing, it doesn't matter how good and brilliant your screenplay, it can still be mangled in the production (through the fault of a bad director, or any number of other circumstances). But mediocre scripts have been made into excellent movies many times--through individual directorial geniuses, sure, but also through really good directors supported by the brio of the system's genius (e.g., the good films of Richard Fleischer). In the structural and procedural world of dramatic moviemaking, the director--if he or she is not hounded by powers-above, and that's a big if--does have an advantage in that his or her placement in the system, being closer to the film. We don't watch screenplays, we watch movies. This is why screenwriters often try to get into directing their own scripts - to preserve their work, because they know their "authorship" is quickly eroded, distorted, replaced in some cases by other authorial voices on the finished product.

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Postby OscarGuy » Fri Mar 12, 2010 11:28 am

But, by saying that the Screenwriter is more important than the director, you are thereby putting forth a contrary example to your own contention that film is collaborative and the director merely a ringleader.

But, to borrow on your emphasis, let's take for example screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. He took on the reigns of director after being critically acclaimed as a screenwriter on films like Amores Perros and 21 Grams, and more minorly with Babel. Yet, when he took the help as a director for The Burning Plain, he was putting forth HIS vision of his screenplay. And most critics would agree the film was a miss.

Now, I'm sure you can come up with examples of writers becoming directors and generating superlative work, but sometimes a screenwriter's vision is NOT necessarily the right way, hence why a director will come in and re-arrange and rework the script.

You may feel that it's a collaborative effort, but more often than not, a director goes to their DP, their Production Designer, their Editor and Screenwriter and conveys THEIR vision of the piece. While the designer then brings back his or her designs for the work, the director can alter or suggest changes in the product to match his vision. How often have we seen a director reject a score by a composer because he doesn't think it fits the film? That puts the artistic control squarely in the director's hands. And while many directors also write their own films and a handful edit, more directors with singular styles running through the feature work are also producers on their own project giving themselves more control over the final product.

But, there are always exceptions to all rules and I'm sure we can name any number of successful directors who didn't write, produce, or edit their own films and still turned out solid efforts, but most of the directors we talk about as being the best working today (Tarantino, the Coens, Scorsese, Spielberg, etc) have significant amounts of control over their production and 9 times out of 10, they find a great team and stick with it (how many of us don't know who the regular contributing editors, production designers and so forth of these directors are).

Believing in the auteur theory does not mean any of us devalue the contributions of those supporting the directors, but many would consider the director as the final arbiter of the film's vision and if a film succeeds or fails, 95% of the time, the director is the first person to get the blame.
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Postby Johnny Guitar » Fri Mar 12, 2010 11:25 am

Big Magilla wrote:Auteur is the French word for author. The "auteur theory", as it was called by Andrew Sarris in 1962, referred to the idea espoused by French critics beginning with Francois Truffaut in 1954, that the director is in most cases the "author" of his film.

Actually, Magilla, if you go back to that 1954 Truffaut article you will see that this is not what he says. In fact, the "certain tendency" he is attacking is that of the dominance of screenwriters in cinema (as well as problems of literary adaptation)--but not screenwriters in abstract, only instead a specific and localized trend in French cinema of the period, where the same handfuls of tired and dishonest scenarios (in the opinion of Truffaut) got played and replayed. He was against the trend of an "anti-bourgeois cinema made by the bourgeois for the bourgeois" (which is also why he attacked certain ostensibly left-wing elements in the Tradition of Quality).

Truffaut says: "I consider an adaptation of value only when written by a man of the cinema. Aurenche and Bost are essentially literary men and I reproach them here for being contemptuous of the cinema by underestimating it." And later, after enumerating just what sort of things he's looking for in cinema, ideally, he says: "You will have understood that these audacities are those of men of the cinema and no longer of scenarists, directors and litterateurs."

Truffaut was valorizing a kind of gestalt "cinematic" approach to cinema, and this politique as taken up the Cahiers and applied to Hollywood worked out so that you had a romantic director vs. studio situation ... but it is crucial to remember that this period in French film culture was NOT arguing that "in most cases, the director is the author of the film," but rather that certain directors (not always self-evidently) were the authors of their films, and that the choice for which directors were such had at least as much to do with their entire, perceived approach to cinema and its forms of "writing." Which is why the Cahiers group didn't just single out the powerful directors, the ones who were producer-director-screenwriters (although sometimes this was the case).

So Truffaut was not arguing that directors "are" the authors, or that screenwriters "are" the authors, but that true authors in cinema (the "men of cinema") usually have some hand in both, and work through cinema, rather than subjecting a film to slavish faithfulness to adaptation or literary idea.

The handful of French filmmakers he singles out? Renoir, Bresson, Cocteau, Becker, Gance, Ophuls, Tati, Leenhardt; "these are, nevertheless, French cineastes and it happens - curious coincidence - that they are auteurs who often write their dialogue and some of them themselves invent the stories they direct."

Also the idea that a director can be or should be the author of a film pre-dates Cahiers du cinema by decades. When Griffith broke from Biograph, for instance, he placed an ad in the trades that promoted the pictures "he" oversaw (not all of whose productions was he likely a hands-on director for). Prior to this the public perception of these films was that they were simply 'Biograph.'

How do we tell which Oscar-winning films are more "director" than "producer"? Sometimes the figure is both - but I would say that most Best Picture winners are not made by Truffaut's "men of the cinema" ... as for the Foreign Film award, some of it goes back to different national conceptions of authorship, too. Europe tends to have much more in the way of authors' rights than the US.




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Postby rolotomasi99 » Fri Mar 12, 2010 11:08 am

Big Magilla wrote:Auteur is the French word for author.

Yes, the Oscar for Best Picture goes to the producer, not the director, but in the case of the Foreign Film award which goes to a country, not a producer, the award is accepted by the director which sort of suggests a shift in emphasis in the Academy's thinking from its original design in the late 1920s to the inception of the Foreign Film award in the mid-1950s.

You would think if someone wanted to promote the idea that the director was the most important person involved in making a film, they would not use a word that usually describes a writer. Afterall, a movie 9 times out of ten begins with a screenplay. So the true author of any movie as far as I am concerned is the screenwriter, but of course we know screenwriters get no respect in Hollywood. Maybe in French "auteur" can be used to describe people other than just writers, but in English it has a certain irony.

As for the Oscar for foreign film going to the director, your theory is as good as any. One other possibility though is to avoid having too many nominees, especially who would have to fly in from overseas, they just chose to give it to the director since there is usually only one. As we know, producers can often be quite petty about the Oscar nomination so the director might have just been the easiest compromise. Just my theory, but your point is still a good one either way.




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Postby Big Magilla » Fri Mar 12, 2010 10:28 am

Auteur is the French word for author. The "auteur theory", as it was called by Andrew Sarris in 1962, referred to the idea espoused by French critics beginning with Francois Truffaut in 1954, that the director is in most cases the "author" of his film.

Pauline Kael, who was Sarris' nemesis, took the opposing view that film was a collaborative effort and in the case of Citizen Kane, the script co-written by Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz and the innovative cinematography of Gregg Toland had as much to do with the greatness of the film as Welles' direction.

While it's true that all films are collaborative efforts, someone has to guide them, shape them, nurse them, shepherd them to a specific vision. In most cases, that is the director. In some, however, it's the producer. David O. Selznick was the controlling force on Gone With the Wind as he was on most of his films. That kind of hands-on supervision by the producer, though, usually gets in the way as with the famous feud between Selznick and Hitchcock on Rebecca.

The only Oscar winning film, aside from Gone With the Wind, in which the producer's vision is more evident to the film's production than the director's is Mike Todd's Around the World in 80 Days.

Yes, the Oscar for Best Picture goes to the producer, not the director, but in the case of the Foreign Film award which goes to a country, not a producer, the award is accepted by the director which sort of suggests a shift in emphasis in the Academy's thinking from its original design in the late 1920s to the inception of the Foreign Film award in the mid-1950s.

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Postby matthew » Fri Mar 12, 2010 8:29 am

rolotomasi99 wrote:I think one of the reasons THE HURT LOCKER is different from most war movies celebrated by Hollywood is that it is not about soldiers who kill. This movie focuses on three soldiers who diffuse bombs. They save lives. They save the lives of their fellow soldiers and they save the lives of the innocent civilians who are in harms way.

I thought it was a film about junkies getting all high and paranoid...

Reminded me of Requiem for a Dream...




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Postby FilmFan720 » Thu Mar 11, 2010 10:03 pm

Johnny, your posts are never ignored, it just didn't get responded to. As to the auteur theory, I will concede to you because my knowledge of film criticism history is limited.
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Postby Johnny Guitar » Thu Mar 11, 2010 9:28 pm

Maybe the role of "director" is a highly amorphous one, changing from context to context, film to film - sometimes the director can be quite powerful even in a strict studio setting because the star wants it (e.g., Davis/Wyler in Jezebel), sometimes not; Robert Bresson is more than a "conductor," as are the major films of mature Hawks and Hitchcock; sometimes a director is more like an anti-conductor (think of Scorsese's example of the director-as-smuggler, working in small genre films but doing expressive work). Why should we limit ourselves to one basic metaphor, one single axis?

Also someone should point out that there is no such thing as "the Auteurist theory." It exists far more as a straw man (among defenders and especially among detractors) than it has ever actually existed. There was an article by Andrew Sarris in the early '60s that referred to "the auteur theory," which was an extrapolation and, in some cases perhaps, a misunderstanding of something from across the pond that was not ever unified under a "theory." Clarifying terms is one of the most important parts of a fruitful debate ...

But maybe this post will be ignored just like the last one I made. In fact, I'd bet on it.

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Postby FilmFan720 » Thu Mar 11, 2010 8:38 pm

I'm giving up on this discussion. You aren't really listening to arguments, and you keep coming back with the same argument that really doesn't understand what goes on behind the scenes of a film.
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Postby rolotomasi99 » Thu Mar 11, 2010 6:01 pm

de·mean·ing–adjective
that demeans; debasing; degrading

de·mean–verb
to lower in dignity, honor, or standing


If you would like to explain why you characterized my comparison of film directors to conductors as demeaning, feel free. Otherwise, I can only go with the dictionary's definition of the word demeaning (a very bad thing). It is not my interpretation. It is the frakking literal meaning of what you said.

You are definitely correct in that I do not subscribe to the Auteurist theory. Film is one of the most collaborative art forms ever. Some films (like AVATAR) have more than a thousand people working on it. I reject the idea that the only person who ultimately matters in the success or failure of a film is the director.

You seem see the director as a general commanding troops. As I made clear, I think every person who works on a film has some voice in its creation. The director just brings those voices together to make beautiful music, rather than using them as tools who do his/her every bidding.

On some movies (like possibly AVATAR), maybe the director is a general. On other movies, I think the director is a conductor. Neither analogy is perfect, but neither one is demeaning to film directors as far as I am concerned.

I also have tremendous respect for screenwriters, and frankly resent directors who meddle with the script. If something needs to be changed or improved for whatever reason, I would hope the director has the respect to ask the screenwriter(s) to do the edits themselves (assuming they are available to make those changes). A director that changes things against the wishes of the writer is an asshole. From what I read about the relationship between Bigelow and Boal, they were a great team and I think THE HURT LOCKER is better because of it.

Best Picture is given to the producers, not the director. I do not necessarily think the producers make a movie good or bad, but it certainly seems more fair to give it to them than to give it to the director.

I am reminded of a great quote I once read from David O. Selznick. Someone was talking to him and they said something about Victor Fleming making GONE WITH THE WIND. Without missing a beat, Selznick said, "I made GONE WITH THE WIND, Fleming just directed it." I think it is ridiculous to give the main credit for making a film to its director. I think too many people worked on it for one person to be given all the glory. Just my opinion.
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Postby OscarGuy » Thu Mar 11, 2010 11:46 am

Rolo, you just read any interpretation into words you want without regard to what was meant. You assume that I have some measure of disdain for a conductor, which is not what I said.

But, since you want me to be sexist, I guess I'm an anti-conductor person too. Would you like me to be an anti-semite as well? How about a racist? I can add all these descriptors to myself if that's what you want me to be because quite frankly, I'm getting tired of you constantly reducing my opinions and thoughts to such tepid characterizations without possibly considering that YOU are the one misinterpreting, not me.

You are obviously not a supporter of the Auteurist theory. You seem to think that Michael Bay isn't the one responsible for the script of his film being terribly written. Yet, someone like Christopher Nolan could have tamed the script, adjusted it and pulled out a different, more stylistic and probably more interesting product than Michael Bay. Mimi Leder could have done the same thing and do you really think that Michael Bay wouldn't have taken the script for Deep Impact and altered it to fit his personal style, shifting the focus of the film to the explosions and away from the performances?

It's your description of what a director is that's denigrating here. You are implying that a director is no better than the sum of his parts, yet discounting that some directors pull more from those parts to get something different, more unique and interesting in the process and, generally, a better film can emerge...especially if they are great directors.
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Postby rolotomasi99 » Thu Mar 11, 2010 11:25 am

FilmFan720 wrote:I want to object slightly to the director as conductor metaphor. In many ways, it is a good one…Except that it takes some of the power out of the hands of the director. If you gave a script to all the designers of a film (or play) and told them to go at it and bring back a product, you would have a very scattershot and unsuccessful series of products. Everyone reads a script differently, and therefore is bringing a different vision to the table.

Likewise, if you gave all musicians in a philharmonic orchestra (around 100 people) a piece of music to perform but no conductor, the results would be disastrous. Even if each musician practiced until they performed their portion perfectly, they need to practice together and have a leader telling them what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. The conductor can tell the winds they are too loud, or the strings need to pick up the tempo. A really good conductor can even pick-out a single player who may be pulling the rest of their section down.
A good director is not someone who micro-manages everything or dictates a “vision” to everyone else working on the film. A truly great director makes sure all the talent involved (the actors, cinematographer, editor, composer, etc.) are giving their best and that their work compliments each other.
FilmFan720 wrote:Without changing a word, James Cameron or Quentin Tarantino or Lee Daniels or Jason Reitman could all have directed The Hurt Locker and maybe come up with something just as good (or better) than Bigelow did, but it would be remarkably different.

No ways! Bigelow was the perfect fit for this screenplay. She clearly started with a very realistic, non-political, character driven screenplay. The script was not about fetishizing heroism (AVATAR) or turning war into some operatic horror show (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS). It just wanted to show the audience how regular folks become addicted to the rush they get from the danger the war puts them in. From the opening quote to the closing image, this is what the movie is about.
This is why I admire Bigelow’s work so much in this film. Her directing style is sharp but sparse, which is exactly what this movie needed. From the cinematography to the editing to the music to the acting, Bigelow got all of her cast and crew to support the straight-forward realism of the screenplay. That is why she deserved the Oscar.
OscarGuy wrote:I looked at what there was to offer and by rolo's definition, James Cameron was the best "conductor" of the bunch.

Uh, no. By my definition Maestro Cameron ignored one of the most important aspects of his orchestra: the actors! In the 80s and 90s, Cameron was the action film director you could always count on to have good performances in his films. Hell, he even led three of his actors to Oscar nominations. AVATAR, however, was a huge disappointment in the acting section. The main performances ranged from OK (Saldana) to boring (Weaver, Worthington, Rodriguez, Moore) to hammy (Lang, Rabisi).
I am not sure if you think the director has nothing to do with the performances or (even scarier) you think the performances in AVATAR are good! If it is the latter, than clearly we not only disagree on what constitutes good directing but also what constitutes good acting.
OscarGuy wrote:The first example isn't terribly great, but I think it emphasizes how similar projects with differing plots can be handled differently: Armageddon vs Deep Impact.

While you acknowledge this is not the best example, I think the biggest flaw in your argument is you seem to think Bay is who made ARMAGEDDON crass while Leder is who made DEEP IMPACT more thoughtful. The movies started out crass and thoughtful when they were written. Bruckheimer, who produced ARMAGEDDON, personally picked Bay to direct the film because his skills matched the tone of the screenplay. Similarly, Steven Spielberg chose Leder to direct DEEP IMPACT based on the more character driven nature of the screenplay. Can you imagine if the directors swapped screenplays? It would have been horrible and a total mismatch.
Cameron, Tarantino, and Bigelow all directed war movies. Each director matched well with the tone of the screenplay. Each took a different approach to the tone of their films, and one of them clearly did a good job making sure all the different pieces worked together nicely. For me, it is even more impressive that Bigelow worked solely as a director, while Cameron and Tarantino were able to write the screenplay and make their jobs easier as director. Bigelow and Boal were a perfect match, and made a wonderful movie together.
OscarGuy wrote:So, to say they are nothing more than a conductor is a bit demeaning of a director.

It is only demeaning if you have a negative or lowly opinion of conductors. Since I think conductors are essential to great musicians working together to perform well together in a symphony, I think there is nothing demeaning about the comparison. I am not sure why you have disdain for conductors, but that is your issue and has nothing to do with me demeaning the work of film directors.
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Postby Johnny Guitar » Wed Mar 10, 2010 9:21 pm

OscarGuy, I was wondering if you caught Anon's post a little ways back. (Sorry if you did, and addressed it, and I missed it.) But it explicitly points out some ways that Bigelow's very "muscular" war/action film is still nevertheless different from a lot of war/action films. I don't think anyone from here on out should repeat that the film doesn't add anything from a woman's perspective without at least addressing those concrete claims ...

I myself think The Hurt Locker is just OK, and that Bigelow herself, while a talented director with some good films to her credit, didn't do a particularly impressive (or "personal") job on the film. At the same time, I'll buy that she has subtleties to her style that may play out in ways that distance herself, ever so slightly, from the ostensibly masculine genres in which she works.

As (I think) Leeder posted here, or in another thread, Bigelow has long been an interesting case for feminist critics, scholars, film critics ...

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Postby FilmFan720 » Wed Mar 10, 2010 4:15 pm

I want to object slightly to the director as conductor metaphor. In many ways, it is a good one. As a theatre director, I often have trouble explaining to people exactly what it is that I do, and this is one that I think could work.

Except that it takes some of the power out of the hands of the director. If you gave a script to all the designers of a film (or play) and told them to got at it and bring back a product, you would have a very scattershot and unsuccessful series of products. Everyone reads a script differently, and therefor is bringing a different vision to the table.

Say you take the script to The Hurt Locker and ask people to bring back what they may with it: the costume designer goes with a very realistic, battle-worn look for the uniforms, the set designer envisions sound stage built Iraqi cities that stress the beauty of the country despite the warzone, the composer comes up with electric guitar riffs that emphasize the masculine adrenaline of the script, the props crew comes up with high-tech bomb set-ups out of a James Bond film, the cinematographer comes in with a sweeping, 70-mm epic camera and the casting director goes for young, good-looking actors in their late teens to highlight the youth of the characters. You would have a mess of a film, one with no coherence.

A lot of the hardest (and most fun) work for a director to do is before all of this begins, to come up with their reading of a script and to get everyone else on board. It is to make sure that everyone is creating the same world for the film, and that their pieces are all fitting together. A designers job is to service the vision of the director, which is why they are generally considered the "author" of a film. Without changing a word, James Cameron or Quentin Tarantino or Lee Daniels or Jason Reitman could all have directed The Hurt Locker and maybe come up with something just as good (or better) than Bigelow did, but it would be remarkably different. Imagine Cameron making the film with larger set pieces and more fluid action (Terminator 2 in Iraq?). Imagine Tarantino making the film more Hitchcockian, darker and cleaner but just as suspenseful. Imagine Reitman focusing on our characters and their own pain, making the bomb scenes take a slight back seat to the strain of the characters. These are all reasonable, and successful, readings of a script, but it was Bigelow who took the reigns, gave the film her own unique vision and led everyone to put it together.
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Postby Sabin » Wed Mar 10, 2010 2:39 pm

If Bigelow was the second woman director to win the Oscar, we would just be talking about whether or not The Hurt Locker is overrated. At least Bigelow had the good taste to not mention that she is a woman while accepting the award because that has never been her MO.
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