The Greatest Directors: The Early Contemporaries
Starting from the top left and working clockwise: Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Francis Ford Coppola.
Last time we brought you our selections of some of the greatest directors in the Moment In History article we called The Pioneers. Continuing that list, here is the next crop of directors we have categorized as The Early Contemporaries.
Order is based on first feature length movie directed. Pics are courtesy Wikipedia.
Ingmar Bergman: Perhaps the most well known foreign language director to North Americans, Bergman spent his entire career making films, most in Swedish but some in English, that documented the human condition or experience. He is recognized as one of the most influential humanistic directors of modern film making. He directed over 60 films, most of which he also wrote.
In 1937 Bergman entered Stockholm University College to study art and literature, was a member of the student theatre and began writing plays. In 1942 he got the chance to direct one of his own plays, which then led to a job writing film scripts. Then in 1945 he directed his first film called Crisis. Ten years later he got his first international success with 1955's Smiles of a Summer Night. Some of Ingmar's other popular films include; The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries both from 1957, Persona (1966), and Cries and Whispers (1972).
Stanley Kubrick: Stanley Kubrick, like D.W. Griffith and Orson Welles before him, or Oliver Stone after, was a director whose movies often caused controversy and juxtaposed humanity against inhumanity. Kubrick was also known as a slow and methodical director who was a strict perfectionist, who also was highly protective of his private life and did not like to discuss his work. For a career that spanned almost 50 years he surprisingly directed only 13 feature movies.
At the age of thirteen Kubrick was given an expensive camera as a gift from his father. He immediately took to the new hobby and started taking imaginative and incredible still photographs. In the mid 1940s he started to work for the publication Look, after selling an unsolicited but amazing photograph of a dejected newstand seller with his newspapers crying out the headline F.D.R. Dead. Then in 1951 a friend persuaded him to move from still photography to film work, and he began to make short documentaries and films. Kubrick's first full length feature film was 1953's Fear and Desire. This film, along with his next, Killer's Kiss did not garner any buzz or award nominations. However, his third movie, 1956's The Killing did achieve a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) nomination for Best Film. From here forth every movie he made, with the exception of 1980's The Shining was nominated for one or more awards. Although The Shining was universally panned by critics at opening, it went on to huge commercial success and has since become a cult movie amongst horror fans.
As mentioned, many of Kubrick's films garnered controversy. The first of these was 1962's Lolita where a middle-aged man has an affair with his 12 year old step daughter. Another was A Clockwork Orange which was released in 1971 inciting a storm of controversy following early viewings. The movie openly depicts young violence including rape, beating and torture and was banned in many areas of Britain after copycat crimes began to occur. Still another controversial movie of Kubrick's was also his last. In 1999 he made Eyes Wide Shut which had to have many of its strongly erotic scenes changed to avoid a X rating in North America.
Lest you feel that Kubrick's career is only filled with contentious material also recall that he made the amazing Dr. Strangelove in 1964 which was nominated for and won numerous awards, as well as perhaps one of the most recognizable and important early science fiction movies ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
John Frankenheimer: John Frankenheimer began his directing career, while in the U.S. Army during the Second World War, making service films. After the war he moved on to directing live television with shows like Climax and The Comedian. In 1957 he tried his hand at feature directing with the movie The Young Stranger but this could be considered a half-hearted foray into the feature-length film world since it was really a Climax episode expanded and turned into a movie. He continued directing television for four years after that before returning to film directing for good with his 1961 movie The Young Savages.
In 1962, Frankenheimer made his most well known movie, The Manchurian Candidate, followed a few years later in 1966 by his largest production with Grand Prix. Although his most popular and successful films were political thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate, as well as The French Connection II (1975), Black Sunday (1977) and Ronin (1998), he also directed movies from other genres; such as romantic dramas, The Gypsy Moths (1969) or black comedy, 99 and 44/100 Per Cent Dead.
Robert Altman: Robert Altman was known as a naturalistic director whose movies often had multiple storylines and large casts. He began directing after a number of false starts in the movie industry, eventually directing over 35 feature length productions after his first movie in 1957, The Delinquents. Up to that point he had tried his hand at acting, getting small bit parts, and slightly more productively as a writer. Then in the early 1950s he worked for a large industrial production film company, the Calvin Company, after his other failed forays into the movie industry.
In 1956 he left the Calvin Company and was hired to make the low-budget movie The Delinquents. Although not a huge success the movie did prove good enough to impress Alfred Hitchcock who persuaded Altman to try his hand at episodic TV direction, which he did for the early 1960s until a falling out with Jack Warner that, along with his earlier failings, would give Altman an "anti-Hollywood" attitude.
In the late 1960s Altman returned to directing feature length movies without much great success at first, until 1970's Mash. Following this success came a string of great movies including The Long Goodbye (1973), Thieves Like Us (1974), and Nashville (1975). But then by the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s Altman had a major slump with most of his productions not making many waves in the industry. A revitalization came however with 1992's The Player. A number of other excellent films rounded out the last years of his career before his death in 2006, including Gosford Park (2001) and A Prarie Home Companion (2006).
Francis Ford Coppola: Some critics might describe Coppola as a flaming star that burnt out long before it should have. His 1970s movies, starting with The Godfather in 1972, made him a veritable overnight sensation and the "next best thing", although he had been quietly making movies since 1963's Dementia 13. Coppola's other great movies from the 1970s included The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part II (1974), and Apocalypse Now (1979). Both his 1974 movies were nominated for Best Director. It is a rare feat for directors to be nominated for Best Director for two movies in the same year, especially since 1945 when the number of qualifiers was reduced to 5. He won for The Godfather Part II.
As mentioned, Coppola's career could be likened to a flaming star and many critics felt that by the 1980s his time was past. This view developed out of the long and troubled production of Apocalypse Now, along with the ambivalent reviews and criticism it received upon release, as well as the complete change in direction he took with future movies. His next film after Apocalypse Now was a musical, One From the Heart (1982) which performed very poorly at the box-office. After that came the lighter drama of The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, both from 1983. The Outsiders was fairly successful, as was 1986's Peggy Sue Got Married, the third instalment of The Godfather in 1990, and 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula. But much of the rest of his output has passed with little fanfare. Overall, Coppola has directed over 25 feature movies. His movies have often revolved around families or family-like relationships. He also is known for involving his own family in many of his pictures, from sister Talia Shire and daughter Sophia in all the Godfather installments, to his nephew Nicholas Cage in three of his movies, to his father Carmine, a composer, making music for a number of his films.
Woody Allen: Woody Allen has a large output of movies over his almost 45 year career. Rarely missing a year without directing at least one movie, and some years he made two. Allen has such a distinctive style that his movies can often be easily identified. He has also covered a wide range of genres, but is most noted for quirky sex comedies or deep dramatic pieces. Allen has also acted in many of his movies, as well as films by other directors. Although none of his movies have been huge box-office smashes (his highest grossing movie was 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters which pulled in $40 million), he is still a beloved director and can easily be viewed as a working man, who never stops creating for the movie industry.He initially started out as a script writer and actor for a few movies between 1965 and 1969, including the James Bond spoof Casino Royale from 1967. He did direct his first movie in this period though, 1966's What's Up, Tiger Lily? which was also a spy genre spoof where Allen took a previously released Japanese spy movie, and rearranged the scenes, added new ones, and overdubbed it with new comedic dialogue that had nothing to do with the original film. 1969's Take the Money and Run was his first full-fledged directorial debut and what followed was a string of comedies including one of his most famous movies, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (1972).
With 1977's Annie Hall came a turn to more contemplative dramatic material with a sprinkling of cosmopolitan humour. Another movie along these lines is 1979's Manhattan, which also displays Allen's love of New York City, a characteristic of many of his movies. Unfortunately, it is another characteristic of his movies that helped keep the box-office takes to a lesser amount, and that was his frequent use of academics or intelligentsia as his main characters, which made his movies relatively inaccessible to the common viewer. As well, the 1990s saw a great amount of scandal surrounding his soon to be ex-wife Mia Farrow, and Farrow's adopted children from earlier relationships. However despite these issues, his movies are good enough, and he has a big enough fan base to rarely have a complete failure, and he still maintains an important and worthwhile career.
Martin Scorsese: Martin Scorsese is viewed by critics and fans alike as one of America's most influential and great filmmakers from his generation, if not the greatest. Ironically though it took him almost 40 years of filmmaking before he won his first Academy Award for Best Director, for the movie The Departed (2006). There were some critics who viewed that as actually a good thing however, in that he didn't have the chance to get "jaded" or "high on himself" after winning an Oscar. He is a very humble and down-to-earth person and that probably never would have, or will, happen.
Common knowledge tells us that in his younger years Scorsese came into the position of having to choose either becoming a priest or entering film-school and he chose film-school. It was here where he made his first feature length film in 1969 called Who's That Knocking at My Door?. After a couple more small films his first commercially successful film was 1973's Mean Streets. Although Mean Streets had a couple violent scenes, nothing in it would prepare the world for the shocking brutality and violence of his next movie; Taxi Driver (1974), which depicts a man's descent into insanity. Another popular 1970's movie was 1978's The Last Waltz a documentary/concert film on The Band's farewell concert.
The 1980s began with a "violent" bang as well for Scorsese, with 1980's film Raging Bull. While a very good movie, it did not perform nearly as well at the box office as expected and it began a long slide, emotionally and directorially, for Scorsese. His most important film since Raging Bull, and also most controversial since Taxi Driver, was 1988's Last Temptation of Christ where Scorsese was condemned by religious fundamentalists for openly portraying Jesus Christ's sexuality.
The 1990s saw a period of hit and miss for Scorsese. The hits included the hugely popular Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) and the not so popular Kundun (1997) and Bringing Out the Dead (1999). Since the turn of the century though, Scorsese has had one great movie and hit after another. Including the large scale production movies of Gangs of New York (2002) and The Aviator (2004) as well as 2006's The Departed which, as mentioned above, finally won Scorsese his first Best Director Academy Award.
Clint Eastwood: Clint Eastwood is an undisputed behemoth in the movie industry. Not only is he one of Hollywood's most successful actors, but he has also directed and produced many pictures throughout his over 50 year career. Although more well known for the tough guy, anti-hero type roles in his acting career, Eastwood has had a very successful directing career as well.
His first movie as director was 1971's Play Misty For Me. As with this movie, and the majority of his 1970s and 1980s output, the fact that he also starred in the same movies overshadowed his directing accomplishments. However he still made a name for himself throughout this period as his directing talents were obvious from the beginning, and grew with each work. Other notable movies he made throughout this timeframe include, The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Sudden Impact (1983) and Heartbreak Ridge (1986).
It was 1992's The Unforgiven which really cemented his place as a director to be reckoned with and won the Best Director Academy Award for it as well. Eastwood had also started to expand his directing repertoire around this time by moving into romantic stories [The Bridges of Madison County(1995)] and more dramatic based movies [Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil(1997)]. The current century has also been good to Eastwood so far with most of his recent movies achieving critical acclaim and popularity, including Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby (2004) as well as 2003's Mystic River and the 2006 war movies Flags of Our Fathers and Iwo Jima.
Steven Spielberg: Steven Spielberg has made quite the achievements for himself since becoming a director. He is the number one box-office grossing director of all time, and has been lauded by many entertainment magazines as the most influential person of his time and of the motion picture industry (Life and Premiere). Indeed, 4 of his movies are in the Top 50 list of all-time grossing films as of 2008. This is a double-edged sword however. Because of his huge popularity with the masses, many critics next to ignore his output, viewing him as the "popstar" equivalent of directors. But one can not ignore the quality of his work, even if most of it has been geared towards blockbuster status.
Spielberg began his career as an intern at Universal Studios in the late 1960s while attending college. In 1969 he dropped out of college however to take on a full-time contract directing television movies for Universal. His first foray into feature film was in 1974 with The Sugarland Express, a movie that got good reviews but had little box-office impact. His next movie took a huge bite at the box offices and made him an overnight sensation, this movie was 1975's Jaws which became his, and to some respects the modern film industry's, first smash blockbuster, with a worldwide gross of nearly $470 million. The only movie to come even remotely close in the modern era was 1973's The Exorcist which pulled in $357, every other movie of recent times was at, or below, the $200 million mark.
Spielberg's career only continued to steamroll from here, with hit after hit, including; Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). The only dud throughout this period was the big-budget flop 1941 (1979). He continued his success for the remainder of the 1980s with two more movies from the Indiana Jones franchise. Again it was, or is, the popularity of so many of these big-budget films which has left a "bad-taste" in the mouths of many film critics. Yet Spielberg has shown over the last 15 years of his output that he is capable of creating dramatic and thought-provoking work as well, such as 1993's Schindler's List, 1998's Saving Private Ryan and 2005's Munich.
Oliver Stone: To say Vietnam (he is a Vietnam veteran) and politics are influential on Oliver Stone's filmmaking would be a gross understatement. One could almost say that is practically ALL Oliver Stone's films have been about. His first two movies were horror flicks [Seizure (1974) and The Hand (1981)] but otherwise, one or both of those themes permeates almost every movie he has ever made since. Indeed three of his next eight films dealt specifically with Vietnam [Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and Heaven & Earth (1993)] and another three could be considered to have political overtones, [Salvador (1986), Talk Radio (1988), and JFK (1991)]. Besides JFK, he has done two other movies to date specifically on American Presidents, Nixon (1995) and W. (2008) which is a new biopic on George W. Bush.
Throughout his career Stone has become a very controversial director for a number of reasons. Firstly, as suggested, would be the strong political overtones that some could see as tainting some of his movies. Then, for 1994's Natural Born Killers, he was blasted for seemingly glorifying violence and at the same time depicting media as "ambulance-chasers". As well, it has been documented that he has intentionally taken drugs during filmmaking, perhaps to influence the end product. This can be seen in the psychedelicism of Natural Born Killers and 1991's The Doors. Furthermore, Stone has often been accused of taking heavy historical license with his movies, as well as being a conspiracist for his depiction of possible alternative plots for the John F. Kennedy assassination. Still for all the controversy that has dogged him throughout his career he has won many awards, including Academy Awards for Best Director for both Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.
Ron Howard: Ron Howard's early film industry career began as an actor where, most notably, he had two long-standing roles; first on The Andy Griffith Show as Opie Taylor and then on Happy Days as Richie Cunningham. He directed his first feature film in 1977 while still in his role on Happy Days, with the low-budget comedy Grand Theft Auto. It was a few years before his next movie with 1982's successful Night Shift.
Howard's movies often tend to be lighter fare and family oriented, but even these are not pure fluff and usually have a meaningful message, such as 1985's Cocoon, 1988's Willow or 1989's Parenthood. However he has produced the occasional dramatic movies as well, such as; Backdraft (1991) and Apollo 13 (1995), as well as 2001's A Beautiful Mind which was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won 4. Other notable movies in his career include; Ransom (1996), Cinderella Man (2005), and The Da Vinci Code (2006). The subject and style of his later movies show that his talent has grown over the years even after the success of those early, lighter, movies.
Next time look for the third and final part of our look at the great directors, these are the directors we call, The New Breed.