Looking down the nose from across the pond

Posted by · 10:19 am · June 12th, 2009

Cary Grant in North by NorthwestBoy, the Brits sure are down on Hollywood this afternoon.  First and foremost, perhaps as an off-set to that “here come the franchises” piece linked in this morning’s round-up, David Thomson writes nearly 1,400 words before coming to his fairly reasoned thesis.  If you get through the painful film school lesson (and really, I love a good talk about Hitchcock and his methods as much as the next guy, but come on), you’ll get to the meat of the matter:

And where has this stylishness gone? As I think about the present range of film-makers I can see very few where one might reliably recognise their work simply from the way it looks – Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson. But who could say there has ever been an evident personal style in Steven Soderbergh, Ron Howard, George Clooney, the Coen Bothers, or even George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Barry Levinson, Stephen Frears or Milos Forman?

It’s not that those people aren’t considerable directors. These may rely on modesty (Howard), a sense of overriding efficiency (Levinson), or a wish not to show off (Frears) or an eclecticism that can do all styles (the Coens). It may be a lack of authorial character or ambition (Lucas). But you can’t tell their style, in the way you could with Antonioni, Bergman, Godard or Fassbinder.

Probably arguable points all.  And that’s if you can get past the fact that somehow a thumbprint is necessary for “personal passion” to be present in the filmmaking.  Watch “Hearts of Darkness” and tell Francis Coppola his films don’t convey “personal passion.”  But it was a nice excuse to write some pleasant words about Hitch’s best film (in my opinion), “North by Northwest,” which is playing at BFI as part of the director’s retrospective.

And the hits keep coming.  Over at The Independent, Geoffrey Macnabb bemoans the remakes of classic 1970s films and the subtlty they have discarded in favor of pyrotechnics and unnecessary star power.

Here’s his case, in a nutshell:

It is understandable that contemporary film-makers want to remake Seventies thrillers. They hanker after the depth of characterisation and the mix of menace and humour that underlay the best films from that decade. The Getaway has already been re-made (with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in 1994) as has Assault on Precinct 13 (in 2005, with Ethan Hawke.) There has long been talk of a Dirty Harry remake. (At one stage, Duayne “The Rock” Johnson was linked with the old Clint Eastwood role of Harry Callahan.)…

In many of the Seventies films, the actors themselves had a battered, shop-worn quality about them that their modern-day equivalents can’t match. In Tony Scott’s remake of Pelham 123, John Travolta makes a game attempt at portraying a hijacker. As Ryder, he is bearded and grizzled and seems a blue-collar figure (although we later discover that he is a disgraced banker.) Denzel Washington, meanwhile, looks a little more jowly than usual as the subway dispatcher Walter Garber.

Nonetheless, we’re always aware that we’re watching movie stars slumming it. Travolta and Washington can’t shake off their action-hero pasts, even if they do get a little dirty in the New York subway tunnels. Certainly, neither is a patch on Walter Matthau, who plays the grumpy subway cop in the original.

Unlike Thomson, at least Macnabb got to the point before droning on and on.  Read the rest here.  It’s hard to argue with both writers (Macnabb especially), though the nose-in-the-air quality of the prose makes it a begruding exercise to do so.

→ 9 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

9 responses so far

  • 1 6-12-2009 at 11:05 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I seriously think Thomson is going senile.

    I mean, if you can’t spot the “personal style” of a film by Wong Kar-Wai, or Tony Scott, or Lars Von Trier, or Pedro Almodovar, or Andrew Bujalski, or (despite what he says) the Coen Brothers, or any number of currently active filmmakers from a mile off, then you must be blind.

    I’m not saying I like them all, but contemporary cinema hardly wants for distinctive stylists.

  • 2 6-12-2009 at 11:12 am

    MattyD. said...

    What about Joe Wright, David Fincher, Baz Luhrman? These are newer directors, and by no means classic directors but they all have definitive style to their film-making that I can easily look at one of their films and know they directed it. Plus they’re commercially and critically successful directors.

    And Guy, I especially agree with your choices: Kar-Wai, Von Trier, Almodovar. (And I also think the Coen brothers have both a recognizable visual panache and style of film-making).

    I know that I could think of more directors if I didn’t think I had to post this comment so quickly, haha.

  • 3 6-12-2009 at 12:06 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I have to agree with Guy here. There are plenty of directors out there with distinctive aesthetic styles.

    So I’m in Guayaquil, Ecuador right now. It’s not nearly as nice as Chile. In fact, this place is basically a third-world country. Not that I haven’t found this place worthwhile as now I am part of a program to help a child here eat for only $96 a year! That’s a pretty cheap investment for a kid’s future. But yeah, this has been enlightening for me. Luckily, Guayaquil has a pretty nice metropolitan area (which exploded when Ecuador beat Argentina two days ago) where I can catch up with you guys.

    Oh, I also had the chance to watch Terminator Salvation on the ship (don’t ask me how). It’s not nearly as bad as Kris said it was…it’s worse. I mean, seriously, this EASILY the worst film I’ve seen all year. Paper-thin characters, poor pacing, stupid dialogue; it makes me pissed off just thinking about it. If you haven’t seen it yet, please don’t waste your money. It will violate your memories of the earlier installments of the series.

  • 4 6-12-2009 at 3:51 pm

    ganonlink1991 said...

    hey man you’re talking like guayaquil is africa or something it’s NOT that bad! anyway i believe there are a lot of directors with unique style like david fincher, but the most recognizable director of this time, kinda shocked nobody has brought him up already, is tim burton. if his style is not recognizable then i don’t know what one could call recognizable

  • 5 6-12-2009 at 3:54 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’d say Thomson’s argument is pretty much destroyed now.

  • 6 6-12-2009 at 4:06 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “In fact, this place is basically a third-world country.”

    Well, yes, it is. “Third world” isn’t a subjective term; it’s a formal classification. A so-called third-world country can still be sophisticated in many aspects.

    And Ganonlink, I can assure you that several parts of Africa aren’t THAT bad, either. Let’s steer clear of generalisations ;)

    Anyway, bottom line: happy travels, Robert. Wish I was doing something similar.

  • 7 6-12-2009 at 4:38 pm

    ganonlink1991 said...

    yea i know point taken ;)

  • 8 6-12-2009 at 9:33 pm

    Mr. Milich said...

    David Thomson is a moronic twit. He actually wrote in his book that cinematography isn’t important to motion pictures; he reasoned that anybody can take a photograph, millions each day, and that only a few d.p.’s in history have done any noteworthy work.

    It’s call a motion PICTURE. PICTURE. PICTURE. You twit. No PICTURE, no motion PICTURE.

    Go be a book critic. Twit.

  • 9 6-15-2009 at 3:56 am

    limeymcfrog said...

    Given that the comment is inaccurate in stating that modern filmmakers do not have a distinguishable style… espescially when he chooses Oliver Stone and the Coens as examples… I still hate the argument.

    First, he lays out no criteria for his style argument, he merely states that the modern filmmakers are all bland and undistinguishable and leaves it there. Does he mean visually? in the kind of stories they tell? tone? pacing? because if he means any of them they are belied by the list he provides.

    And what exactly is the problem if a filmmaker has facility with different subjects and tones? Lumet’s films have very different styles, but that makes him no less great. Since when did the ability to tell a story in a different way disqualify one from the filmmaking elite?