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Thread: GREAT DIRECTORS (Angela Ismailos 2009)

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    GREAT DIRECTORS (Angela Ismailos 2009)

    Angela Ismailos: GREAT DIRECTORS (2009)

    Angela Ismailos doing what she likes to do: posing with. . . Catherine Breillat [Indiewire]

    A good topic -- for middle school

    Angela Ismailos has provided a rambling film about ten directors she likes. They are, in alphabetical order, Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, Liliana Cavani, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, Richard Linclater, Ken Loach, David Lynch, John Sayles, and Agnès Varda. If you like these directors, but don't know very much about them or haven't seen them interviewed, this is a good film to watch. Otherwise, the annoying egotism of filmmaker Ismailos, the completely arbitrary choice of directors (who have little in common as a group other than her liking them), and the random, digressive ramble among them (more like YouTube surfing than a film), may madden or simply bore you. Ismailos, with her slightly mannish Greek handsomeness, insists on photographing herself non only in most of the interviews but also in dramatic and pointless strolls through famous scenery. She may resemble Melina Mercouri, but she most closely resembles that other Greek, Narcissus. On top of this, the frequent clips of films by the directors and others are of hideous quality, slightly out of focus and with garish inaccurate color.

    This is a pity because there is a good film or two here somewhere. Breillat, Cavani, and Varda are, obviously, pioneer European women directors, and their different stories make a potentially interesting comparison. Varda, however, recently made her own sweeping and beautiful film autobiography, The Beaches of Agnès, in which we get to hear maybe a bit more than enough about her story. The interview (in English) and clips add nothing to that. Caviani, about whom we know the least, and thus worthy of exploration, is presented most sketchily, with only her most famous film, The Night Porter, talked about -- without mentioning that it made a (somewhat dubious) name for Charlotte Rampling. Breillat (speaking thoughtfully in French) tells how her films were loathed in France but 36 Filette did well abroad and kept her financing. Her outlook is fascinating; one would have liked more. Why does she identify so strongly with Bergman? Here again as with Caviani there's a missed opportunity to go deeper.

    Another pairing is somewhat logical. Frears is five years younger than Loach, but they both began having some connection to BBC television under the freedom of the Liberal Party, by this account. Frears reports moving to a "higher level" with Dangerous Liasons, but choosing to remain modest and English after a period of Hollywood filmmaking that did not change his British focus. His My Beautiful Laundrette he says was meant as a sneer at the Thatcher government. But Loach may really have even more in common, because of consistency and his strictly social and political concerns, with the American John Sayles, except that Sayles has supported his personal work through prolific mainstream screenwriting. Some ugly clips of Sayles' films are shown. What can we say about a film about filmmakers that makes their work look sickening?

    And what about Bertolucci, Haynes, Linklater, and Lynch? Bertolucci obviously is a European, and older, whose early work had a strong leftist bent (and he was a communist). His self-description (in English) suggests that the fall of the Berlin Wall was an ideological shock that he and like-minded contemporaries have not recovered from. There is a quick and spotty review of his career, with a pause on his masterpiece in the view of some and a notable performance by Brando, Last Tango in Paris, a film in which, Bertolucci thinks (not surprisingly) the famous American star may have let down his guard more than at any other time. But one gets no sense of Bertolucci's ups and downs, nor is he even remotely challenged on his softening over the years. His rambles come off as bland and flaccid.

    Richard Linklater defines himself as a poor boy (but a football star: we see an impressive youthful sports shot of him) who realized early he didn't have the advantages, despite being a white male, of material comfort and Ivy League education, and had to struggle to get anything. His Newton Boys seems logical to him, showing his sympathy with crooks who don't hurt anybody, and poor boys themselves. But it was deemed out of character with his slacker outlook, and hence a misstep. So was, in a way, the discursive, rotoscoped Waking Life, a film dear to his heart that was a box office failure and hence made future projects hard or impossible to finance. (The clips of Waking Life don't look so bad.) Not much about Linklater's other films.

    Todd Haynes is a bright and highly articular talker, and David Lynch is a direct and charming one, so Ismailos' interviews with them can't help providing some good material. Haynes talks interestingly about early influences, going into some detail about Fassbinder and Sirk. Clips are shown of Fassbinder directing and of his Fox and His Friends. Haynes explains his sense of what he was doing with Safe, and the theme of Dylan's protean nature in I'm Not There is hinted at: but why is only Cate Blanchett repeatedly shown in the clips when Dylan is played in the film by six actors? If you haven't seen the film you will barely comprehend what it's like. Again with Lynch we get a tour of high spots: how he got into a prestigious film school and was able to produce Ereaserhead; how Mel Brooks loved that film and got him the job of directing Dune, a dream project that was fine to make but became a mess because Lynch didn't have final cut. How the utter failure of Dune led to the return to himself and success of Blue Velvet. There are recurrent clips of Inland Empire, and it's linked with Muhlolland Drive through being inspired by Los Angeles. Lynch, like Loach, is sui generis; they and Sayles are the male directors whose work has been most consistent throughout their careers. Loach is a very diffident man, and he doesn't emerge very clearly. Lynch is always worth listening to, but he's been filmed talking about himself and his work on many other occasions and it's hard to discern anything new here.

    This is all very well as sloppy guided movie tours go, except that it leads absolutely nowhere. And so it ends with short clips of some of the directors, again in no particular order, making some of their most general, not to say vacuous, statements, with a sweeping symphonic background leading to blackout. It's hard to see Ismailos as doing much else than sucking up to celebrity directors and hoping some of their glitter will rub off on her as she shows off her bleach-blond tresses while talking to them and prances around (it does not). One would like to say this is a bad film about a good subject. But it's not a good subject, because it is not clearly defined. "Great Directors"? Maybe for middle school that would be a good topic.

    Released in New York in June, shown in July in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. The photo was taken on a yacht during the Cannes festival, of which Ismailos' film was not a part.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-29-2010 at 02:43 AM.


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