Saturday, May 26, 2007

Actors as directors - Director Alex Cox

This is from yesterday's Guardian (UK) copyright 2007 by The Guardian

Director Alex Cox makes no friends in the following piece about actors as directors:

Directing: a movie stars' substitute for psychoanalysis: How to kill a film star


Madonna and Kirsten Dunst are to direct their first films. But, says Alex Cox, the film studios may have a sinister motive for letting them indulge their fantasies ...


Kirsten Dunst: Is directing a substitute for psychoanalysis?

The news that both Kirsten Dunst and Madonna are to direct short films this summer is exciting for connoisseurs of awful movies. Will their directoral debuts resemble Johnny Depp's excrutiating quasi-snuff movie, The Brave, or Vincent Gallo's disastrous homage to himself and his supposedly enormous member, Brown Bunny?

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For the past 20 years, the Hollywood system has chosen to make costly B-movies of an increasingly stupid variety. Given this, the rise of the actor-director isn't hard to understand. Actors are instinctive, and emotional. They are not, as a rule, highly intelligent. There are, of course, exceptions: Derek Jacobi, Diana Quick and Andrew Schofield are very clever individuals. But it isn't actors like these who direct feature films for studios. Actors are hard-working, versatile, and often have second jobs to sustain them in quiet periods. The studios don't care about actors any more than they care about directors or production designers. What studios care about is stars.

Movie stars are strange, soulless creatures. Hollywood invents them, via vast expenditures of advertising money. It pays them enormous sums, and invests far greater quantities of money in their promotion and their maintenance. Knowing how stupid it all is, some stars chafe at the bit. They are aware their job isn't that difficult, and that they are paid far too much. They begin to resent the producers and directors, who are the only people in the world who dare to tell them what to do. Unable to fire the producer (who works for the studio, provider of their pay-cheque), they decide to assert their extraordinary individuality, and talent, by directing the film themselves.

Sometimes the actor fires the director and takes over an existing picture. When Brando fired Stanley Kubrick from his cowboy movie, and announced that he would direct the film himself, Paramount was happy to oblige him. Brando was a star, in whom they had invested lots of money. And who was this Kubrick guy? A nobody; an irrelevance. At the same time, the studios, though satanically evil, are not daft. They dislike their moody, whining stars as much as they need them, and they relish any opportunity to covertly humiliate the prating, posturing prats, and cut them down. What better way to do this than by giving them a feature to direct?

The old saying, "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad," applied to Brando, just as it did to many subsequent star-directors. Having fired Kubrick, Brando also sacked his screenwriter (another nobody, called Sam Peckinpah). He started improvising scenes. When he and his co-star, Karl Malden, had to play a drunk scene, Brando decided that the two of them should really get drunk. An evening stretched into two booze-sodden weeks. A two-month shoot (already very long by cowboy standards) became a six-month shoot; the budget quintupled, to $6m - One Eyed Jacks became the most expensive B-Western ever made.

Paramount pretended to be annoyed by Brando's excesses, and cut his super-oater down to size, but in reality the studio was pleased. Over the years One-Eyed Jacks made its money back, and Brando had been broken: he never dared direct again. Thereafter he approached the business, and his own work as an actor, from a cynical, monetarist perspective. As his biographer, Richard Schickel, wrote, "He whom Hollywood would humble, it first indulges. It is, perhaps, the most basic law of the business."

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Given this grisly and cynical reality, is there any hope for Dunst, especially, as a director? Well, she still has a chance. A handful of American actors - Orson Welles and Dennis Hopper spring to mind - managed to create small but admirable bodies of work as directors, which they often funded with their income from acting. Certain actors managed a one-off directorial opus of considerable interest: Charles Laughton, with the excellent Night of the Hunter, and Robert Montgomery, with his wobbly but original attempt at a point-of-view detective drama, seen via the eyes of Philip Marlowe, Lady in the Lake. Other than that, the star-director model has mostly produced low-budget fiascos or dull and turgid monstrosities.

My candidate for the worst movie-star director of all time has to be Clint Eastwood. Because he's still a big star and he stays on budget, Hollywood continues to indulge his directorial fantasies, yet in nearly 40 years of half-assed attempts at directing he has never developed a style of his own. Every directorial chop Eastwood displays was stolen from Don Siegel or Sergio Leone - real filmmakers who taught him what little he knows. Clint's only original theme, present from Play Misty for Me all the way to Million Dollar Baby, is that of a paternalistic white male who exercises the power of life or death over a woman: invariably, he chooses to kill her.

This might suggest that - for movie stars - directing movies essentially takes the place of psychoanalysis in the American cinema. But it's expensive, and obnoxious, therapy.

for the complete article go here http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,,2087163,00.html




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1 comment:

Russell Davis said...

Mr. Cox obviously hasn't seen all of Clint Eastwood's films. Nor have I. But I do know that his analysis fails - quite horribly - when applied to: LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, SPACE COWBOYS, UNFORGIVEN, HEARTBREAK RIDGE, PALE RIDER, and THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES.

What Mr. Cox appears to be is a man who is jealous of those who have been able to do both successfully.