AUTHORITY AND CELEBRITY
The opening credit sequence of contemporary American films typically proclaim that the ensuing work is "a film by" a particular director. This assertive title is both an acknowledgment of professional responsibility (that the creative process is led by a central administrative figure) and an authorial intention (that the work in question is the product of a single, creative individual). However, within such a deceptively simple credit lies an implicit array of controversial assumptions about the position of the director. The significance of such a credit is historically contingent: it depends on the film's given production context, as well as the changing professional status of the director from decade to decade. Indeed, the ubiquity of such a credit is a fairly recent phenomenon; in most cases during the classical era, movies were credited as being "authored" by the studio that produced them. Moreover, it is not simply that a credit such as "a Jay Roach Film" is potentially misleading; it also gives very little indication as to the precise nature of the director's creative enterprise.
What, then, are the technical duties and professional responsibilities of the director? How do they differ according to a director's cultural, historical, and industrial situation? Why have certain professional and critical discourses encouraged us to regard the director as the prominent "authorial" voice among a hierarchy of film artists? Finally, what is the use-value of promoting the director as a "celebrity"—a creative personality whose name comes to signify quality, exclusivity, and/or fashionability? Answering these questions requires a consideration of the director's position within a hierarchy of film production given to structural fluctuation, as well as an analysis of the power dynamics involved in both authorial and star politics.
In the business of film production, the designation of "director" is a somewhat enigmatic title. Comparatively speaking, most of the other principal creative personnel involved in filmmaking hold titles that give a fairly clear indication of their professional responsibilities. Generally, one individual is responsible for overseeing the labor that is relevant to a single facet of production, whether it be cinematography, writing, editing, music, sound, production design, or costumes. With the notable exception of the producer, however, the range of the director's tasks is quite broad, and involves coordinating innumerable creative activities throughout the course of developing, shooting, completing, and marketing a film.
It shall be assumed here that the director is the individual who actively oversees the realization of a film from shooting script to finished product, harmoniously coordinating the creative activities of the key personnel involved in the production processes. He or she will liaise with each of these artists, deliberate over various expressive and/or technical options to be implemented, and arrive at a decision that is commensurate with the requirements of the developing work. Correspondingly, the director will also be answerable to the executive body that finances and/or distributes the work and therefore must ensure that production runs smoothly and within an allotted budget. The director's job, then, is twofold: to maintain a consistency of style and quality throughout production and ensure that the production itself proceeds efficiently and economically.
In other words, before one considers the director's position in evaluative terms (as a potential author), one must come to a more objective understanding of the director's position in descriptive terms (as an effective delegate). Serving as the funnel through which all of the decisions affecting a film's form and style are exercised, a director's primary task is to cultivate and coordinate the creative contributions of a production company's principal artists. In the interests of specificity and demystification, it is worth enumerating the various duties assigned to the director during all three stages of filmmaking: preproduction, production, and postproduction.
During the preproduction stage, the director's responsibilities can be divided into four principle tasks: (1) collaborating with the writer(s) on the development of the script; (2) assisting the casting director in hiring appropriate actors, and conducting rehearsals; (3) cooperating with the producer(s) in developing a practical shooting schedule; and (4) planning the overall visual "look" of the film with the production designers and the director of photography (DOP). The extent of a director's involvement in each of these phases varies according to production context and the director's personal working habits. A director may insist on meticulously preplanning a film before beginning to shoot, which is the method preferred by Satyajit Ray (1921–1992), or, the director may treat the film organically, allowing it to develop spontaneously during the process of shooting. Wong Kar-wai (b. 1958), for example, frequently devises and shoots several different versions of a loosely scripted scenario before settling on one that will become the "official" film.
Throughout the actual shooting of the work, the director must multitask efficiently, ensuring that all tasks are executed effectively, solving any unforeseen complications that may arise during production. First, the director and the DOP will supervise the electricians and grips in the lighting of a set—ensuring the correct placement of lights, cutters, and nets. Second, all camerawork—including framing and composition, lens selection, and tracking shots—must be reviewed and potentially rehearsed with the DOP, camera operator, and focus puller. Third, he or she will consult the head carpenter, set dresser, and assistant director (AD) to ensure that there are no logistical problems with the staging of a scene. The director and the AD must also properly block and coach any extras appearing in the scene. Fourth, the director confers with the sound crew regarding the proper placement of microphones and any additional sound equipment. Finally, the director will provide the actors with instructions and suggestions, guiding them through the playing of a scene based on decisions agreed upon during rehearsals. Practical directions will be given to ensure that the actors stay in frame and compensate for any camera movement, but less concretely, the director will also coach actors through improvisations, modulating the "tone" of their performances.
It is at the completion of a take that the director's most crucial decision emerges: whether or not the photographed action will be printed. If all of the above elements have been fulfilled to his or her satisfaction, the director will order the shot to be taken to the lab for processing. The processed shot will most likely appear in the final cut of the film after being carefully scrutinized at the daily rushes by the principal crewmembers. Given the enormous amount of work required during the production stages, the average amount of time needed to shoot a modestly budgeted, 120-minute film is about forty days. Independent directors working with a small crew on a shoestring budget will usually take considerably less time. For example, while working for AIP Productions, Roger Corman (b. 1926) was able to shoot eighty-minute exploitation films, such as Little Shop of Horrors (1960), in three days. By contrast, Frances Ford Coppola (b. 1939) required over sixteen months to shoot the problem-laden art-house blockbuster, Apocalypse Now (1979).
Once actual filming has finished, the director must preside over the completion of the work during postproduction. Again, the degree of a director's involvement in these stages varies according to historically determined production contexts and individual practice. Before 1940, for example, a Hollywood director often had literally no input in the cutting of a film; the footage was sent directly to the editing department, and the director might not even see it again until a rough cut was completed for previewing. By contrast, the contemporary digital manipulation of images has increased to such a degree that the director's close involvement in postproduction stages is often a necessity. Indeed, digital filmmaking has significantly blurred the distinction between filmic creation and modification, and has therefore expanded the director's postproduction role dramatically.
As in preproduction, there are four principal post-production areas in which a director's input is necessary: (1) editing, (2) visual effects, (3) music, and (4) sound. In most cases, an editor and director will develop the film's pace and rhythm, reinforce continuity between shots, trim moments of unwanted excess, and ensure that the montage generally serves to reinforce the work's intent. The visual effects category encompasses the manipulation of the raw footage by color timers, processing technicians, special effects designers, and an array of digital artists, compositors, and animators. Broadly speaking, a director will convey instructions to supervisors in each of these groups, indicating the specific "look" the director wishes to convey. Such post-filmic "treatment" affecting the overall appearance of a work can range from Robert Altman's (b. 1925) decision to "preflash" the negative of The Long Goodbye (1973) in order to amplify the washed-out pastels of its hazy Los Angeles milieu, to Robert Rodriguez's (b. 1968) development of the entirely digital, black-and-white cityscape of Sin City (2005). The director will oversee a film's aural elements as well. In working with the composer, he might intimate how the score reinforces the affective intent of key sequences, accentuates notable action, or even organizes the structure of the montage. The director may also specify to the sound designer how various audio cues will function, indicate the expressive intent of ambient noise, and/or explain the interplay between aural effects and edits. A favorite composer might be relied upon—as in Danny Elfman's recurring scores for Tim Burton (b. 1958)—or in some rare cases, a director might personally compose the film's music (as Charlie Chaplin [1889–1977] did for his features), or co-design the sound (as David Lynch [b. 1946] often does).
In describing the various responsibilities of the director, it would seem that he or she occupies a central position within the cinema's creative division of labor. Despite this apparent centrality, however, it must be established that the title of "director" is not necessarily synonymous with the designation "author." Understanding the role of the director is an objective concern and does not require the subsequent appreciative assertion that he or she is the most important individual in this process. Nor should it be assumed that a director's supervisory status is ipso facto proof of his or her status as the center of the work's significance. Rather, the director's centrality should refer to his or her position within a system of creative labor. Again, a director is first and foremost a delegate—one whose primary duties are to coordinate numerous creative endeavors in the interest of maintaining a consistent style and quality across an efficient production process. Given the collaborative nature of this process, it is important to understand the basic ways in which a director can work with key personnel within a filmmaking collective.
Since the screenplay serves as the primary source material in the director's process of adaptation, the screenwriter and director ideally will collaborate closely during the preparation of a film's shooting script. While the writer(s) and director will have their own opinions about the work's nascent significance, they will strive to reach an objective understanding of the script's intent—one that represents an unforeseen synthesis of their respective attitudes toward the material. In practical terms, this partnership may include identifying the work's central ideas, resolving any potentially disruptive ambiguities in the story, tightening narrative structure, and rewriting dialogue or adjusting characterization if necessary. Their work may continue through the shooting process itself should circumstances require further adjustments to be made.
Again, the actual proactive involvement of the director will vary. Alain Resnais (b. 1922), for example, allows his screenwriters to have virtual autonomy in preparing their screenplay. Milos Forman (b. 1932), by contrast, will labor over a script with a writer, line by line. Directors may prefer to work on the script personally with a favored collaborator (as evidenced by the long-time partnership between Billy Wilder [1906–2002] and I. A. L. Diamond [1920–1988]), or film his or her own screenplay (Ousmane Sembene [b. 1923], Pier Paolo Pasolini [1922–1975], and Preston Sturges [1898–1959] are all prominent examples of director-screenwriters). Alternatively, a film's working script may emerge through improvisations overseen by the director during rehearsals: John Cassavetes (1924–1989) and Mike Leigh (b. 1943) are celebrated exemplars of this tendency. It is important to note, however, that if there is a substantial degree of financial investment in the film, investors may insist on approving every draft of the work in progress. Hollywood screenplays, for example, have been subject to the whims of producers, executives, censorial boards, and even stars—all of whom have wielded creative authority over the majority of screenwriters and directors.
Just as the shooting script is frequently outside of the director's complete control, the casting of a film's principal roles is often dictated by the economic logic of the star system, especially in mainstream Hollywood cinema. Orson Welles (1915–1985), for example, may have despaired at Universal's insistence on casting Charlton Heston as a Mexican in Touch of Evil (1958), but the casting of the film's principal players was not his decision to make. In the studio era, a contracted star might be assigned to a particular film, while contemporary stars may be "packaged" along with a screenplay by a talent agency as part of a non-negotiable deal. However, the director typically has much more independence in the casting of secondary and minor roles. The director will oversee the work of the casting director, who will organize auditions for these roles and/or present the director and producer(s) with a selection of actors to handpick for smaller parts.
For certain directors, their influence in the casting of the film is of paramount importance. Sergei Eisenstein's (1898–1948) reliance on typage in the casting of his early Soviet films is a good example, with the director often personally selecting the ideal faces needed to personify particular ideological positions. John Waters's (b. 1946) entire filmography is founded upon casting director Pat Moran's selection of the perfect assortment of lumpen freaks. Andy Warhol (1928–1987) and Paul Morrissey (b. 1938) transformed casting into a quasi-political act, by selecting whoever happened to be hanging around the Factory and proclaiming them to be instant "movie stars." Other directors may choose to work with favorite actors or cultivate a stock company. Such reliance on familiar faces not only potentially simplifies communication between actor and director, but it may also serve as a kind of expressive shorthand within the film itself. John Wayne (1907–1979), for example, is John Ford's (1894–1973) idealized emblem of the frontier's potential for self-determination, while Liv Ullman (b. 1938), Bibi Andersson (b. 1935), and Max von Sydow (b. 1929) are not so much part of Ingmar Bergman's (b. 1918) "troupe" as they are his recurring muses and creative partners.
For certain directors, performance is the very heart of cinematic art. Jean Renoir (1894–1979) provides the most prestigious example of a humanist aesthetic: his famed deep-focus photography, elaborate tracking shots, and long takes represent a concerted, empathetic effort to preserve the integrity of his actors' performances within a fully realized social world. Other directors frequently showcase the technical ingenuity of gifted actors. Elia Kazan's (1909–2003) close involvement with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler in the cultivation of American "method" acting often resulted in films that foregrounded the intense psychodynamics of their principal characters. Occasionally, the better part of a director's career might be dedicated to exploring a single actor'spersona. Examples include Zhang Yimou's (b. 1951) early feature-length "tributes" to Gong Li and Josef von Sternberg's (1894–1969) obsession with Marlene Dietrich—the radiant focal point of his films' mise-en-scène. In all of these cases, the director's function is to facilitate the actor's cultivation of a performance that will satisfy a shared aesthetic ambition. Actual working methods might range from encouraging improvisation (Shirley Clarke [1919–1997]), the use of provocation and multiple takes (Stanley Kubrick [1928–1999]), or blatant manipulation and intimidation (Roman Polanski [b. 1933]).
Often at complete variance with the "actor's director" is the filmmaker who aspires to a rigorous aestheticism, treating the artistic process as an opportunity to explore the parameters of the medium itself. Such a director's fellow artists might be encouraged to consider the filmic image as a graphic design, rather than an indexical referent to a profilmic reality. In such cases, the production designer and director of photography are frequently the formalist director's chief collaborators. In The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) and Prospero's Books (1991), for example, production designers Jan Roelfs and Ben van Os and director Peter Greenaway (b. 1942) treat the screen like a canvas, creating an intricately layered onscreen space and occasionally "writing" on the surface of the screen itself. For Alfred Hitchcock's (1899–1980) color films of the 1950s, Hal Pereira (1905–1983) helped the director devise some of his most superbly crafted set pieces: the multi-windowed courtyard that provides voyeuristic glimpses of multiple levels of action in Rear Window (1954) is a triumph of design. Another example is the sumptuous formalism of Sally Potter's (b. 1949) work since The Tango Lesson (1997), which can largely be attributed to her recurring collaboration with designer Carlos Conti.
Congruently, the DOP is equipped with the technical knowledge to help a director visually realize his or her conception of the significance, mood, and/or affective intent. Bernardo Bertolucci's (b. 1940) most stylized efforts—particularly Il Conformista (The Conformist, 1970)—are a result of Vittorio Storaro's (b. 1940) mastery of expressive lighting and color. The invariable steely iciness of David Cronenberg's (b. 1943) films since Dead Ringers (1988) is largely cultivated by Peter Suschitzky (b. 1941), just as the warm romanticism and nostalgia that pervades Woody Allen's (b. 1935) work in the late 1970s and early 1980s can primarily be attributed to Gordon Willis's (b. 1931) photography. Or, we might reference the lyricism of F. W. Murnau's (1888–1931) "unchained," moving camera in Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924)—an innovation developed by master cinematographer Karl Freund (1890–1969). Despite Andrew Sarris's assertion that an auteur must be "technically proficient," the majority of directors in his catalog of great filmmakers rely heavily on the technological ingenuity of the DOP to develop and realize their visual ideas.
On a similar note, a skilled editor effectively shapes a film's structure, pace, and intended significance. Again, directors may formulate an outline of their intent, but most often the creative onus is on the editor to bring this objective to fruition. Even a director as heralded as Martin Scorsese (b. 1942) is reliant on the precision and innate sense of timing of his long-time editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. Certain directors believe montage to be the essence of their medium and develop an aesthetic that foregrounds the expressive potential of the various relations between shots. Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin (1893–1953), and Aleksandr Dovzhenko (1894–1956)—the chief exponents of Soviet montage—are the obvious examples here. As equally inventive are prominent figures from the various international "new waves" of the 1960s, whose editing styles are informed by an irreverent admixture of radical politics, anti-classicism, and blistering energy. Notable exemplars of such politicized dynamism include Glauber Rocha (1938–1981), Věra Chytilová (b. 1929), and Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930).
While the pyrotechnic editing evident in much contemporary commercial filmmaking is frequently reviled for its perceived pandering to decreasing audience attention spans, several directors have turned this tendency to their creative advantage. Taking their cue from the use of sampling in hip-hop music, director Darren Aronofsky (b. 1969) and editor Jay Rabinowitz devised a montage for Requiem for a Dream (2000) that is a lightning-fast form of crosscutting synched with exaggerated sound effects. Harmony Korine (b. 1973) and Valdís Ó skarsdóttir developed an editing style for Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) that emulates the elliptical and erratic perception of the schizophrenic protagonist. Also noteworthy are John Woo's (b. 1946) dynamic alterations between expertly choreographed, slow-motion action and almost subliminally fast cutting in Hard Boiled (1992) and Face/Off (1997)—a contemporary update of a style devised by Sam Peckinpah (1925–1984) for the bloody climax of The Wild Bunch (1969). Conversely, a director's signature style may be founded upon a preference for minimal edits and a long-take aesthetic. Kenji Mizoguchi's (1898–1956) delicate exploration of an intricately crafted mise-en-scène, Andrei Tarkovsky's (1932–1986) attempts to evoke the felt duration of time, and Chantal Akerman's (b.1950) minimalist emphasis on the domestic labor of her female characters are notable examples. Contemporary artists such as Tsai Ming liang (b. 1957), Abbas Kiarostami (b. 1940), Michael Haneke (b. 1942), and Béla Tarr (b. 1955) continue this tradition, collaborating with their various editors to produce slowly paced films that reward patient, studied attention.
The most potentially contentious of the director's various working relationships is with the producer. Since the producer's chief tasks are to secure finances and ensure that filming adheres to schedule and budget, the partnership between producer and director is frequently an anxious one. During preproduction, they will select shooting sites found by location scouts based on availability, affordability, and practicality. Script changes will be discussed and approved, and casting choices finalized. A shooting schedule will be devised by a production manager in order to maximize the availability of the principal actors, local crew, and locations. The schedule is of vital importance, as it represents the culmination of all approved, pre-planned aesthetic decisions that will affect the completed film. The more expensive the production, the more inflexible is a director's commitment to the schedule and the shooting script. Producers are almost always present during a shoot, keeping a close eye on the proceedings, and they will often make suggestions regarding the director's rough cut of a film before it is delivered to the studio for testing and/or distribution.
On the one hand, a positive working relationship can lead to an extremely creative partnership, as evidenced by the work of producer Val Lewton (1904–1951) and director Jacques Tourneur (1904–1977) collaborative RKO. On the other, certain directors perceive the producer's close involvement as interference with his or her creative autonomy, and their relationship to producers is typically hostile. Indeed, Erich von Stroheim (1885–1957), Orson Welles, and Nicholas Ray (1911–1979) are often characterized as artist-martyrs whose Hollywood careers were destroyed by gross materialists. During the late 1930s, the emerging Directors Guild made a concentrated effort to secure the director's right to supervise the first rough cut, participate in casting and script development, and wield more authority during the actual production stages. However, it is also worth noting that the creative tensions that arise between producers and directors during the most tempestuous production circumstances can sometimes yield riches. For example, Gone with the Wind (1939) was produced amidst stormy relationships between producer David O. Selznick and the various directors hired and fired from work on the film, including Victor Fleming (1889–1949), George Cukor (1899–1983), and Sam Wood (1883–1949), yet it went on to become the most widely seen American movie in history.
The history of the producer/director relationship is quite complex, especially throughout the changing infrastructure of the studio system in the United States. In fact, the director's role, responsibilities, and level of authority can shift quite dramatically depending upon the larger industrial organization of filmmaking. As a brief case study, it is useful to summarize the historical transformation of the Hollywood director from cameraman to contemporary celebrity.
Prior to the standardization of multi-shot narrative films around 1905, cameramen such as William K.L. Dickson, Billy Bitzer, and Edwin S. Porter selected the subject matter, arranged, shot, and edited a scenario. Exhibitors' demand for a higher output necessitated a more detailed division of labor among manufacturers. Therefore, between 1907 and 1909, a second individual—the director—was contracted to stage the action while the cameraman was relegated to the purely technical role of filming. During this brief period, in which filmmaking labor began its centralization within studio conditions, the role of the director and producer was synonymous, with individuals such as D.W. Griffith (1875–1948) and Alice Guy (1873–1968) occupying the dual position of both artist and manager. With the introduction of the multiple-reel feature and a more efficient distribution system between 1909 and 1914, a single director could no longer keep up with the technical demands or rapidity of production. Labor became even more departmentalized, with a director heading a small unit working from a detailed continuity script—a procedure developed in 1913 by the first producer-director proper, Thomas Ince (1882–1924), during his tenure at Mutual.
As the classically structured, multiple-reel feature became the norm, the director's technical responsibilities and managerial decisions actually decreased. Encroaching upon the director's administrative capacities, the "central producer" came to ascendancy as the Hollywood system achieved consolidation between 1914 and the late 1920s. These "efficiency experts" assumed managerial control of planning and controlling a continuity script, with the director relegated to the task of its execution. Creative decisions once wielded by the director were now coordinated by a central producer in advance of the director's involvement in the filmmaking process. Such figures as Allan Dwan (1885–1981), Cecil B. De Mille (1881–1959), and Lois Weber (1881–1939) became studio functionaries who no longer legally controlled the product on which they labored; instead, they worked under the direct orders of a studio's central producer (such as MGM's production chief, Irving Thalberg).
By 1931, production was relegated to a number of generically specific units under the supervision of a production chief responsible for overseeing six to eight films a year. If there were author-figures in classical Hollywood, then it is these producers who best occupy the role, as they held the ultimate authority over a film at every level of production from script development to final editing. Contract directors were often quite literally reduced to a glorified stage director, chiefly responsible for supervising the dramatic action of the performers and largely adhering to predefined "house" styles. Assigned by studio executives to six different pre-planned projects a year, a director might have only one to two weeks to prepare for shooting.
The director's creative fortunes changed only after the Directors Guild's first president, Frank Capra (1897–1991), threatened to call a general directors' strike in 1939. An executive decision was made to create the "hyphenate" category of "producer-director" in order to placate the guild. From then on, those elite filmmakers who could select their own writer, cast, and cameraman and were allowed to supervise production at all levels held the designation of producer-director. Preparation time and salaries were increased, and A-list directors were responsible for making only two to three films a year—either as freelance directors, or as the head of their own in-house independent units. Capra, Hitchcock, Fritz Lang (1890–1976), and Leo McCarey (1898–1969) all held this quasi-independent status in the late 1940s.
With the development of the package-unit system in the mid-1940s, directors were granted even more creative autonomy. As the studios sought to cut their overhead expenses, especially following the court-ordered divestiture of their theater chains in 1948 and declining boxoffice receipts, the shift from in-house units to a more decentralized system was accelerated. As the majors now had to distribute their films on a film-by-film basis, directors became important means of pre-selling and differentiating their product. Films were "packaged" by producers, and increasingly by talent agencies, both of whom could draw on an industry-wide pool of talent to produce a film. A director would lead a production company that was assembled on a short-term basis and dissolved after their work was completed. Interestingly, many of the major Hollywood stylists beloved by French and American auteur critics emerge during this period, including Max Ophüls (1902–1957), Vincente Minnelli (1903–1986), Otto Preminger (1906–1986), and Douglas Sirk (1897–1987). In other words, the authorial "signatures" of so-called Hollywood auteurs emerged and were subsumed within the economic logic of disaggregated (rather than centralized) film production.
Since the absorption of the studios by major media conglomerates in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the director has become an even more valuable commodity in a production horizon dominated by blockbusters and franchises designed to generate profits in multiple ancillary markets. As labor is now almost exclusively outsourced, a director frequently acts as a lynchpin within a temporary, electronically maintained network of technicians, programmers, and artisans—many of whom he will not even meet in person. In order to remain visible within a highly differentiated and hit-driven market, a commercially savvy,
ERICH VON STROHEIM
b. Vienna, Austria, 22 September 1885, d. 12 May 1957
Probably the most iconic image of the working director is conjured up in the person of Erich "von" Stroheim: a monocled European despot stalking the set and barking orders through a bullhorn. Indeed, von Stroheim's persona of an actor—"the man you love to hate"—was equal parts tyrannical egoist and unappreciated genius. Fittingly, in most critical retrospectives of his career, von Stroheim is typically represented as either a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions or the victim of studio philistinism.
Erich Oswald Stroheim emigrated to the United States from his native Vienna, Austria, in 1909. The son of a Jewish hat manufacturer, he left the country penniless and disgraced after the family business failed, and the Austrian army discharged him as an invalid after five months of service. Little is known about his early years in America, but by the time he arrived in Los Angeles in 1915 to work as an extra, he had created an elaborate biography for himself, claiming to be a German aristocrat with a distinguished record in the imperial army. Simultaneously cultivating experience as both an actor and assistant director, von Stroheim directed his first feature, Blind Husbands (1919), to considerable commercial and critical success.
All of his films are concerned with characters who degrade themselves in the pursuit of money, sex, and/or status. What is remarkable about von Stroheim's representations of these endeavors, however, is the density of sociocultural detail against which they are enacted. His two masterpieces, Greed (1924) and The Wedding March (1928), recreate prewar San Francisco and Vienna in obsessive detail. Not simply exercises in slavish verisimilitude, the films are informed by the naturalism of Émile Zola, so the degeneracy of the films' characters is always determined by circumstances and environment. Greed's shambling protagonist fumbles his way from the filth of Polk Street to the blistering hell of Death Valley, and the decline of the debauched aristocrats in The Wedding March is a microcosm of the general collapse of the Hapsburg empire.
The exactitude of Von Stroheim's vision and struggles against the emerging studio system make him a cause célèbre for auteur theorists. Conversely, studio apologists reference his career as a cautionary tale for egomaniacal filmmakers. Most of von Stroheim's work is incomplete, truncated, or has been lost entirely. His excesses on Merry-Go-Round (1923) prompted Universal's head of production, Irving Thalberg, to fire him after shooting only one-fourth of the film. Thalberg also ordered Greed to be reduced from forty-seven reels to a mere ten, and The Wedding March was similarly eviscerated under the order of Pat Powers at Paramount. Similarly, his final two projects—Queen Kelly and Walking Down Broadway—are severely truncated as well. Whatever one's opinions of his ambitions, von Stroheim remains one of the most controversial and uncompromising filmmakers in Hollywood history.
As Director: Blind Husbands (1919), Foolish Wives (1922), Greed (1924), The Wedding March (1928), Queen Kelly (1929); As Actor: Hearts of the World (1918), Blind Husbands (1919), The Great Gabbo (1929), As You Desire Me (1932), La Grand illusion (Grand Illusion, 1937), Five Graves to Cairo (1943), The Great Flamarion (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Curtiss, Thomas Quinn. Von Stroheim. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971.
Lennig, Arthur. Stroheim. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Greed. London: British Film Institute, 1993.
Thomson, David. "Stroheim and Seeing Money." In The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood, 202–216. New York: Knopf, 2005.
Aaron E. N. Taylor
freelance director is encouraged to develop an ostentatious style that will attract a younger and lucrative demographic. Examples include the flamboyant, but ultimately superficial post-classical aesthetics of such "shooters" as McG (b. Joseph McGinty Nichol in 1970), Brett Ratner (b. 1969), David Fincher (b. 1962), Michael Bay (b. 1965), and Gore Verbinski (b. 1964). For these music video alumni, "style" is no longer regarded romantically as an indication of personal expressivity; instead, it is motivated by a commercial logic (the acquisition and retention of work) and its value is purely fiscal.
The current prominence of the director's position is underlined by the substantial financial compensation awarded in the United States. In 2004, for example, the minimum salary of a director working on a film whose budget exceeded $1.5 million was $13,423 per week. Of course, salaries can climb much higher depending upon the profitability of the director's past films. Warner Bros., for example, paid Peter Jackson over $20 million against twenty percent of the grosses to write, direct, and produce the 2005 remake of King Kong. Other commercially successful Hollywood directors whose fee runs into eight figures include Robert Zemeckis (b. 1952), M. Night Shyamalan (b. 1970), and Steven Spielberg (b. 1946). However, as an indication of the rising star power of the director, it has become a frequent practice for such commercially successful filmmakers to negotiate deals that consist of low upfront fees compensated with higher percentage points from their film's gross profits. As the "hyphenates" continue to gain power and influence, their business acumen has become as important as their creative powers.
Moreover, as Warren Buckland argues, contemporary Hollywood directors achieve the status of auteur not simply because a recurring personal style is manifested in the treatment of his or her material; rather, they wield control over the production, distribution, and exhibition of their work. By "vertically integrating" all three stages of filmmaking, they exert considerable influence over the external conditions of their authorship: finances, talent, and distribution. Spielberg and George Lucas (b. 1944)—the premier twenty-first century filmmakermoguls—are notable as directors, producers, owners of filmmaking facilities, and holders of lucrative franchises because their integrated labor is personally, rather than externally, controlled.
Thus, the contemporary celebrity director has become a brand image based on singularity, familiarity, and reliability. Hollywood has found the myth of the auteur highly congenial to contemporary business practices in that it promotes a sense of product continuity. Yet to invoke the director's name is not necessarily to invoke an author; a manufactured authorial signature merely evokes a series of pleasurable expectations on behalf of the viewer. Attributing a film to a single creative individual is a strategy designed to remind viewers of a previously enjoyed product in the hopes that they will pay to repeat a similar experience. Major studios care little about ascribing creative authority to the director's name. Indeed, studios are quick to stress multiple authorial sources if they believe such emphasis will contribute to a film's marketability—hence the contemporary proliferation of promotional taglines that link a film to the past commercial successes of unspecified "creators," producers, and even writers.
While the conception of "style" and its relation to "personal expression" retains residual romantic connotations in the international art cinema tradition, the "author-value" of the director has become increasingly commodified in a global marketplace. With exhibitors in most countries importing over 85 percent of their films from Hollywood, international festival circuits are emerging as the primary means for art films to secure distribution. In North America, art cinema has been perceived as a "director's cinema" since the 1950s, when films directed by Luis Buñuel (1900–1983), Federico Fellini
b. New York, New York, 26 July 1928, d. 7 March 1999
Renowned for the icy, near-clinical elegance with which he represents human folly, obsession, and perversion, Stanley Kubrick produced thirteen feature films spanning most of the major genres, many of which are regarded as canonical. His work exhibits a near-metaphysical preoccupation with geometrical design that often finds expression within narrative situations featuring passionate characters who flail and crash against the boundaries of a rigorously formal(ized) world.
With little patience for formal education, Kubrick spent most of his adolescence in the Bronx, New York, frequenting chess clubs and taking photographs for Look magazine. Using his savings from a Look photo-essay on boxing, Kubrick made his film debut, Day of the Fight (1951), a sixteen-minute documentary on boxer Walter Cartier. This early short demonstrates two of Kubrick's stylistic trademarks: elaborately choreographed hand-held camera work and the use of available light. Kubrick's first independent features were Fear and Desire (1953), a psychosexual war thriller that he subsequently disowned, and the hard-boiled, occasionally surreal Killer's Kiss (1955).
During this period of apprenticeship, Kubrick's technical fastidiousness and insistence on complete creative control brought him to the attention of United Artists, which distributed his heist thriller, The Killing (1956). Yet they also drew the ire of producer-star Kirk Douglas during filming of Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960). Resolving not to be compromised again by the restrictions of studio filmmaking, Kubrick relocated to MGM British Studios, at Borehamwood, England, where he directed his remaining work with near-complete autonomy.
His remaining eight films are uncompromising studies of violence, sexual pathology, and the limitations of rationality. Lolita (1962) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) examine the sexual frustrations that drive their ostensibly cultivated male protagonists to ruin. Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) offer devastating portraits of an American military ethos hell-bent for an apocalypse. A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980) explore the confluence of culture and murder, with a Beethoven-loving sadist in the former and a novelist whose failures lead to psychosis in the latter. While 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) depicts a near-mystical cycle of humanity's discovery of and transcendence over technology, Barry Lyndon (1975) charts the social ascent and decline of an eighteenth-century Irish rogue; both are technically astounding critical essays on the cultural imperative of progress.
Throughout his independent work, Kubrick continually pushed technical boundaries, using "Slitscan photography" in 2001, candlelight in Barry Lyndon, and extensive Steadicam tracking shots in The Shining. Careful cultivation of his actors' performances has resulted in some of the most memorable characterizations in cinematic history (Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, and Jack Nicholson in The Shining). Above all, Kubrick's films are structured with mathematical intricacy, and their ambiguous emotional address is nearly unprecedented in commercial cinema.
The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Baxter, John. Stanley Kubrick: A Biography. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1997.
Chion, Michel. Kubrick's Cinema Odyssey. Translated by Claudia Gorbman. London: British Film Institute, 2002.
Falsetto, Mario. Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic Analysis. 2nd ed. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001.
Nelson, Thomas Allen. Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist's Maze. Expanded ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.
Walker, Alexander, Sybil Taylor, and Ulrich Ruchti. Stanley Kubrick, Director. Revised and expanded ed. New York: Norton, 1999.
Aaron E. N. Taylor
(1920–1993), Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998), François Truffaut (1932–1984), and others achieved substantial box-office success in the emerging art house scene. However, the cultural cachet of the "name" director has assumed even greater prominence, as the star status of the director is now the imperative that largely drives the economics of the art house market. Certainly, to promote such names as Pedro Almodóvar (b. 1949), Catherine Breillat (b. 1948), Jane Campion (b. 1954), Hou Hsiao-Hsien (b. 1947), Mohsen Makhmalbaf (b. 1957), Mira Nair (b. 1957), Idrissa Ouedraogo (b. 1954), Walter Salles (b. 1956), or Lars von Trier (b. 1956) is to portend a unique cinematic experience, attributed to the artistry of a singular filmmaker. Yet one must also recognize that this authorial status is both a political and economic strategy maintained within the high-stakes business of a global culture market. Now more than ever, the director is a conflicted figure, owing a divided allegiance to the demands of both art and commerce.
"Basic Agreement of 2005." Directors Guild of America Inc.http://www.dga.org/index2.php3.
Bogdanovich, Peter. Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors. New York: Knopf, 1997.
Buckland, Warren. "The Role of the Auteur in the Age of the Blockbuster: Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks." In Movie Blockbusters, edited by Julian Stringer, 84–98. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.
Lumet, Sidney. Making Movies. New York: Knopf, 1995.
Nichols, Bill. "Discovering Form, Inferring Meaning: New Cinemas and the Festival Circuit." Film Quarterly 41, no. 3 (1994): 16–30.
Perez, Gilberto. The Material Ghost: Films and Their Medium. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Perkins, V. F. Film as Film. London and New York: Penguin, 1972.
Rothman, Jack. Hollywood in Wide Angle: How Directors View Filmmaking. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.
Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929–1968. New York: Dutton, 1968.
——. "Notes on the Auteur Theory." In Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. 6th ed., edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 561–565. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Tirard, Laurent. Moviemakers' Master Class: Private Lessons from the World's Foremost Directors. New York: Faber and Faber, 2002.
Wilkinson, Charles. The Working Director. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005.
Aaron E. N. Taylor
di·rec·tion / diˈrekshən; dī-/ • n. 1. a course along which someone or something moves: she set off in the opposite direction | the storm was expected to take a more northwesterly direction. ∎ the course that must be taken in order to reach a destination: he had a terrible sense of direction. ∎ a point to or from which a person or thing moves or faces: a house with views in all directions | fig. support came from an unexpected direction. ∎ a general way in which someone or something is developing: new directions in painting and architecture | any dialogue between them is a step in the right direction | it is time to change direction and find a new job. ∎ general aim or purpose: the campaign's lack of direction. 2. the management or guidance of someone or something: under his direction, the college has developed an international reputation. ∎ the work of supervising and controlling the actors and other staff in a movie, play, or other production. ∎ (directions) instructions on how to reach a destination or about how to do something: Preston gave him directions to a restaurant directions for making puff pastry. ∎ an authoritative order or command: to suggest that members of Congress would take direction on how to vote is an affront.
DIRECTION. When a military writer speaks of going down a body of water, he means in the direction of flow. Burgoyne's offensive, for example, advanced up Lake Champlain from Canada to New York. No difficulty is encountered in the case of streams that run from north to south, as does the Hudson, but frequent errors are made as a result of thinking that north always means up, as it does on the conventional map. The left bank of a stream is the one on an observer's left as he or she faces downstream. The left flank of a formation is the left side as its members face the enemy; unless the enemy is retreating, his left flank is on the side of your right flank.