Erich von Stroheim
THE GREAT FILM DIRECTORS
A personal list

Everybody who is interested in cinema has their favourite movie directors, and many factors influence the choice. To some it is the school in which the director is perceived to operate, for example Italian Neo-Realism, or the Nouveau vague. To some it is patriotism where, depending on nationality, D W Griffiths, John Ford, or Jean Renoir will always head their lists. To others politics, and we get Andrzrey Wajda or Gillo Pontecorvo. Art House gives us Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen. Those with literary inclinations demand Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras. Very rarely do we get a purely objective judgement.

This list is based on what I hope is more rational criteria.
  • Master Craftsmen

    Film directors who are masters of their trade. Frequently they will have contributed to pushing the envelope, in advancing techniques and aspirations.

  • Artists (Auteurs)

    These film directors bring an additional dimension to cinema. Like true artists in all fields of artistic endeavour, they have the ability to express themselves though the medium of their craft. Not necessarily to send that infamous Western Union "message", but to present a world view which is wholly their own.

However it is remarkably difficult to fit some movie directors into these categories, so the list is still very much a personal one. The order within a category has no significance. Only a few living directors are included - the jury is still out.


THE GREAT ARTISTS

Erich von Stroheim

The Wagner of cinema. A true artist, he stuck to his guns where others compromised.

Stroheim should have lived in an earlier era where commerce was less significant than patronage. It was his misfortune that in the age of cinema, patronage was dead, commerce was king, and mass production had become the key. Every painting, every print, every lobby card, every photograph, was now a standard size, and every film was expected to be a fixed number of reels. But Stroheim's vision could never be constrained by such mediocrity. Would we reject Picasso's Guernica because the canvas was not the same size as a common poster?

Stroheim's vision is a Victorian vision. A world of exotic adventures, of grotesques, of outrageous sex, of the dark underbelly of the mind that Freud was only just beginning to plumb. A polymath, Stroheim's world view is not only encapsulated in his films, but in his novels such as Poto Poto and Paprika.

Leni Reifenstahl

Indisputably one of the greats. See article. (forthcoming)

OTHER ARTISTS

Luis Buñuel

Where would surrealism have been without him?

Josef von Sternberg

Anybody who has seen Sternberg's films with Marlene Dietrich cannot be unaware of the personal nature of these films and the strange psychology of their relationship.

Ingmar Bergman

No need for comment here.

Michelangelo Antonioni

If Antonioni had produced only one film, L'Aventura, that would still entitle him to be listed here.

Fererico Fellini

A master of his craft, Fellini's films are often so personal that he has been accused of being self-indulgent. He is also one of the magicians of the cinema - see the review on Intervista. (forthcoming)

Pier Paolo Pasolini

His work is distinctive and disturbing. The Gospel according to St Mathew is outstanding.

Woody Allen

A very personal director. A Woody Allen film is about Woody Allen and nothing else. Even his recent - and to me lesser - works tell us more about him and his obsessions than the subject they are portraying. His early films had tremendous impact, Annie Hall starting a fashion craze, but his habit of plagiarism, and the essential shallowness of his conceptions, prevent him from being considered as a major artist.

MASTER CRAFSTMEN

Ernst Lubitsch

One of the best technical directors listed here. If only he had used those massive gifts to actually say something!

D W Griffiths

George Melford

Cecil B De Mille

Fred Niblo

Charles Chaplin

Fritz Lang

G W Pabst

Clarence Badger

Rupert Julian

John Ford

William A Wellman

Rouben Mamoulian

Frank Capra

Dr Arnold Fanck

Howards Hawks

Orson Welles

John Huston

Marcel Carné

Ozamu Dasai

Billy Wilder

Robert Aldrich

Andrzrey Wajda

Kon Ichikawa

Akira Kurosawa

Joseph Losey

Alain Resnais

François Truffaut

Jean Luc Godard

Stanley Kubrick