Filmmakers    (Last Updated in 2007)
Things I wrote about some of my favorite filmmakers. I'll try to expand it.
Brakhage     Breer     Bresson     Cukor     Ford     Frampton     Gehr     Jones     Jordan     McClure     Peterson     Rossellini     Welsby
More I see Brakhage, more I "see". To have a better understanding of his art you can (and I think you should) read a) Brakhage's own writing b) Victor Grauer's essay Brakhage and the Theory of Montage c) Fred Camper's articles on his website d) P. Adams Sitney's great book Visionary Film e) Spring 2002 issue of the Chicago Review and needless to say, most importantly, see lots and lots of Brakhages. The "By Brakhage" DVD issued by Criterion is a must simply because it allows seeing his films again and again. However, since his art depends so much on the very nature of cinema, the experience doesn't even come close to seeing them on film. You can read my comments on his The Art of Vision here. The following is the famous opening paragraph of his book Metaphors on Vision:
Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, and eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception. How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of 'Green'? How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye? How aware of variations in heat waves can that eye be? Imagine a world alive with incomprehensible objects and shimmering with an endless variety of movement and innumerable gradations of color. Imagine a world before the 'beginning was the word.'
- Brian Frye's article on Brakhage for the Senses of Cinema
- Bruce Kawin's great interview with Brakhage
Breer might be my favorite filmmaker. Everything I have seen of his can be used to define cinema or art. I seriously lack the words to describe his films.
I have seen most of Bresson's films in the 19th Istanbul Film Festival. It only took me one film to make me love his films, and four more to change my way of looking at the cinema. His book "Les Notes sur le Cinematographe" is one of the best books I have read about film.
Certainly one of the greatest filmmakers who worked in Hollywood. My favorites are Holiday and Adam's Rib. I also dearly love The Marrying Kind, My Fair Lady, Born Yesterday, The Philadelphia Story, and of course The Women.
Especially Adam's Rib is a proof of how conscious he is of visual style, as in that film he uses many different methods, meshes them together to a point where it becomes experimental. The long-take in the bedroom allows the film to reach profound levels by changing the rhythm completely. Likewise, the home-movie part with its 'careless' cutting and jump-cuts lets him have his way with images, with no regard to continuity in the way required by Hollywood films. The chocolate gun at the end is one of the most beautiful jokes ever registered by a camera.
His compositions are perfect, especially helped by their intricate set design, filling the space and making it hard to grasp, expressing the psychologies or existances just by their own rhythm. The professor's house in My Fair Lady, the hotel room and the grand belittling structures in Born Yesterday, all the settings in The Women, are only some of the best examples. These architectures also allow him to play with space, sometimes within one shot, sometimes between cuts, never allowing the film to lose its tension. All this is made clear in the beginning of My Fair Lady when the professor compares Eliza to the column she's been standing next to.
What I love most about George Cukor is his joyful humanity that finds its way through the lighting, compositions and characters. When I laugh watching a Cukor film (and many of his films are comedies), I laugh with all my heart, inhaling the human behind... Just the "Wouldn't it be lovely?" sequence from the inconsistently perfect My Fair Lady should be enough to prove my point, especially if it is on the big screen in 35mm.
On top of my Great Films list I state that "My views on cinema changed drastically over the last few years." Ford's The Searchers was the film that made me realize that the colors, the use of space and their rhythm could tell me much more about myself than all the stories of the world. Its formal beauty crushed me into pieces. What's more, I had seen it on DVD before (and I have seen it on DVD since then) and thought it was simply a "good film". The greatest films rarely survive when they are transferred to another medium.
Zorns Lemma is one of the greatest films I have seen. It is not only very very beautiful, it is also one of the greatest inquiries into the nature of cinema and art. You can read some things I wrote on Nostalgia and Poetic Justice here.
- A great site on Frampton, it has some good links at the very bottom.
Serene Velocity is simply one of the most amazing 24 minutes of my life. The honesty of his "way of seeing" amazes me in every single one of his films. You can read some things I wrote on Serene Velocity, Shift and Glider here. The following statement might be the best I read about cinema. Frampton's statement proves how Gehr's films are succesful in putting his theory in practice:
In representational films sometimes the image affirms its own presence as image, graphic entity, but most often it serves as vehicle to a photo-recorded event. Traditional and established avant garde film teaches film to be an image, a representing. But film is a real thing and as a real thing it is not imitation. It does not reflect on life, it embodies the life of the mind. It is not a vehicle for ideas or portrayals of emotion outside of its own existence as emoted idea. Film is a variable intensity of light, an internal balance of time, a movement within a given space.
-Ernie Gehr, January 1971
"Of a film seen on my third birthday I recall only this: a drenching radiance, like the sun's, made somehow carnally intimate. Thirty years later I recovered that ecstasy in the films of Ernie Gehr.
That film, all film, is 'about light,' is an operational commonplace. In Ernie Gehr's films, light seems an absolute quality of the image. Light is in the image. This light is not merely the energy beamed from the projector, by which the film is seen; it is the energy streaming from Ernie Gehr's lucid sensibility, by which virtue we see."
I saw Chuck Jones' cartoons thousands of times as any other children of my age did. However, not until I got to see his masterpieces in a theatre in 35mm (in Chicago Film Center, 2001) that I discovered his work was, and is "art in its most sublime".
I saw 63 of his shorts in film (about 9 hours of cartoons in one week) and many many others on TV. I could not believe how they look different in film and how deep they are when one tries to see them as serious art. His work is, first of all, wonderful and enjoyable; then deep; and finally frightening. It is frightening because if one realizes the underlying "truth" Jones expresses in his cartoons, the laugh leaves its place to an amazing series of self-explorations. Of course, at the end of that, there are again great laughs but bitter laughs that could move one to tears.
- An article on Chuck Jones in the Senses of Cinema
- The Official Chuck Jones Site
- An interview with Chuck Jones
- Fred Camper's article
One of the most creative people who ever walked on earth. Mekas cites him as one of the twelve greatest avant-garde filmmakers, and I assure you, he is nothing less. His animations require a minute attention to the frame, and what happens between frames. Below is Larry Jordan's statement on his film Sophie's Place, which is, according to Brakhage, "the greatest epic animation film ever":A culmination of five years' work. Full hand-painted cut-out animation. Totally unplanned, unrehearsed development of scenes under the camera, yet with more "continuity" than any of my previous animations, while meditating on some phase of my life. I call it an "alchemical autobiography." The film begins in a paradisiacal garden. It then proceeds to the interior of the Mosque of St. Sophia. More and more the film develops into episodes centering around one form or another of Sophia, an early Greek and Gnostic embodiment of spiritual wisdom. She is seen emanating light waves and symbolic objects. (But I must emphasize that I do not know the exact significance of any of the symbols in the film any more than I know the meaning of my dreams, nor do I know the meaning of the episodes. I hope that they - the symbols and the episodes - set off poetic associations in the viewer. I mean them to be entirely open to the viewer's own interpretation.)
I don't know if it would be correct to list McClure under the category of filmmaker. What he does is cinematic performance art, extending the boundaries of what has been called the cinema, and offering new alternatives that defies any labeling. The only performance of his I've seen was simply mind-blowing. I'll try to write more on it later...
Peterson is one of my very favorites and his films are the best examples of surrealism that I know of in any art form. He truly is one of the sublime underappreciated artists of the 20th century. What I like most about his films is that they don't work when the viewer expects any preconceived notions of art fulfilled. They work in their own way, with their own seemless rhythm, and their off-balancing approach to the universe. No other filmmaker can even touch the areas of conciousness that Peterson explores with complete mastery. You can read my essay on his Lead Shoes here. What he says about his own films is true for all great art: "These images are meant to play not on our rational senses, but on the infinite universe of ambiguity within us."
Rossellini is my favorite narrative filmmaker. Viaggio in Italia was my most cherished cinema experience when I saw it, until I saw Francesco, giullare di Dio for the second time. His cinema, at its best, makes me completely aware of the light reflected from the screen, I start watching the rhythm of the light dancing around and between the shadows.
Watching the museum scene in Viaggio in Italia, I felt the material world blur and disappear in front of me, and I didn't know what to make of this experience until my poor reason began grasping the intellectual truth in that a few years later.
The day I saw Francesco, giullare di Dio the second time (and I worship Anthology Film Archives for showing such a great film, every year, without subtitles), my heart kept beating hours after the film, its influence never really disappeared, still here while I'm writing this, it changed my life, and my way of feeling/thinking. I could not speak, there was nothing to say, no way to express the transcendental experience I just had, how I was face to face with pure beauty. The ending, with the priests turning around until they fall in order to decide which way they are going to go, remains for me the single best summary of any moment in anybody's life. Nevermind that what follows in the film is even more devastating.
My Method, a collection of interviews with and short writing by Rossellini, is one of the best books ever about cinema, his ideas and sensitivity on anything is revolutionary, as it would be for an artist as great as Rossellini.
Welsby has a truly revolutionary approach to film; he lets the rhythm of the film be shaped by the rhythms in nature. The following is Welsby's own description of his great film Tree; all of his films approach cinema in a similar way:
The camera was placed on the flexible branch of a tree in a strong wind. The composition included both stationary and moving trees (a wooded landscape). The relationship of this landscape to the vertical and horizontal plane was maintained as much as possible. The camera ran continuously until all the film was exposed. The world is seen from the point of view of a tree as its branches sway to the rhythm of the wind.
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