International Perspectives on the Art of Film Making

Article excerpt

DURING the late 1990s, Studio magazine in Paris agreed to a request made by Laurent Tirard to conduct a series of 'master class' interviews with some of the most influential directors in the film industry. The transcripts of these interviews were published in the magazine and subsequently republished by Tirard under the title of Movie Makers' Master Class (Faber and Faber, 2002). Tirard, who is also a filmmaker, interviewed twenty-one directors from three continents. Directors from the American continent (Sydney Pollack, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Oliver Stone, Joel and Ethan Coen) featured heavily, but there were also nine European directors (John Boorman, Claude Sautet, Bernardo Bertolucci, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Emir Kursturica, Lars Von Trier and Jean-Luc Godard) and three from Asia (John Woo, Takeshi Kitano and Wong Kar-Wai). Tirard published the transcripts without editorial comment, apart from a few explanations of technical terms, and presented them in the form of private lessons from some of the giants of modern cinema. These transcripts provide a fascinating insight into both the world of filmmaking and the secrets of their success.

The Nature of Film

Film is recognised, along with theatre, as one of the chief collaborative arts. Film directors understand that it would be impossible for them to create their films without the aid of producers, writers, actors and technicians. Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most influential directors of French New Wave cinema in the 1960s, pointed out that just as Sartre wrote following in depth conversations with many people, so film makers require the input of numerous people and that 'making a film on your own is about as hard as playing tennis alone: if there isn't anyone on the other side to hit the ball back, it just can't work'. This collaboration is deemed essential to the creative process. Ideally, each person brings something distinctive to the project. It is part of the role of the director to recognise what each person can contribute to the project rather than rely solely upon his or her own talents. The actors and crews are not mere technicians, following the whims of directors. They are active participants in the filmmaking process.

Filmmakers use a variety of skills and employ a multitude of artistic methods. Many of the great European directors have attempted to infuse their films with the skills derived from and tones set by some of the other arts. Visconti, for example, used the skills he developed when staging operas. Fellini was trained as a draftsman and Bertolucci recalled that when he made Last Tango in Paris (1973) he took some of his crew and cast to the Grand Palais in Paris to see an exhibition of paintings by Francis Bacon and that he used these paintings as inspiration in his film. The orange hue, notable in Last Tango in Paris, is attributed to the influence of Bacon. Marlon Brando was told to study and recreate some of the pain and anguish found in Bacon's paintings. This was, according to Bertolucci, the main piece of direction that he gave to Brando in his preparations for the role. Even on a superficial level, filmmaking will often involve story telling, music, and choreography of some sort and the creation of visual and audio images. Directors have at their disposal centuries of artistic endeavour from which to draw inspiration. It is in the novel blending of these sources that film can create something new, yet at times strangely familiar.

Admirers of the cinema often point out that films made for cinema have greater depth and value than the majority of programmes created for television. Many directors lament the destructive influence of TV on the quality and character of films. Oliver Stone, a director of lengthy and detailed films dealing with significant landmarks in American social and political history, claimed that the American film industry in particular has become 'softened' as a result of TV which has 'diminished the audience's attention span'. …