Friday, 5 March 2010

What Makes a Filmmaker Great?

Here's a post that I've been meaning to write for a while, but only just got around to. Apologies to my regular readers for the lack of proper posts recently. Thanks for sticking around.

Last month, I finally finished reading
My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer by Jean and Dale Drum, which I've been slowly reading as I study my way through Dreyer's complete oeuvre (and hence the recent Medea related posts). Along with my own obsession and admiration for his work, my Dreyer 'season' (if you will) is part of the reason for the continual referencing of his work on this blog, so some of you will probably be pleased to hear that it's coming to end (what next, I'm not quite sure, though I'm considering a potted history of British cinema). I feel like I've learnt an awful lot about filmmaking from studying Dreyer's films and theories, and of course the many books, essays and documentaries I've been taking in alongside the films. As those who know me well can testify, undertaking a study such as this is nothing new for me, and in 2006 I spent seven months trawling my way through the work of another of my favourite filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick.

One thing that struck me very early on when reading My Only Great Passion was how many similarities there were between Dreyer's life and personality, and Kubrick's (at least as described by
Vincent LoBrutto's seminal biography). For instance:

• They both had an early interest in flying which they later lost.
• They both started in journalism.
• They both had an obsession for meticulous research.
• They both mainly worked on films adapted from pre-existing material.
• They were both very productive in the early years of their career, but ended up with long gaps between their final films.
• They both have reputations for being tyrannical on set – reputations disputed by those who actually worked with them.
• They were both said to have never shouted on set and have an exacting politeness which meant that they actually always got what they wanted.
• They were both perfectionists who wanted complete control.
• They both had long, stable marriages.
• They both had a great fondness for animals and pets.
• They are responsible for perhaps the two greatest unmade projects, which also happen to be about the two most written about people of all time: Napoleon (Kubrick) and Jesus (Dreyer).

Although a lot of this can be put down to coincidence, it does make me wonder if there's also something more to it. Perhaps, quite simply, some of the qualities listed above are the qualities that make filmmakers great.

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