Film directors – style, messages or perception?

It all started a few days ago when I was watching David Fincher’s “Zodiac”, the director’s cut (for the 6th time). And while doing so one, an interesting thought popped out of a boiling pot. As one of those people who finds him extremely talented and influential, and whose movies I can watch over and over again, whenever I am asked to name directors I believe are great and highly influential (or the most awkward question of all: What’s you favourite director of all time?), I quite often mention Fincher, among others. But why I wonder? To what (or who) do we associate film directors to, so that we put them on a list like this? What qualities, and/or characteristics put that specific director above all the rest? Is it their specific style, the messages they send to us or just good old-school “oh, his/hers film just moved me by 360°”?

Copyright © Leila Murseljevic
Copyright © Leila Murseljevic

I decided to test these “issues” and look closely what labels a film director as the best. I spoke to several people from different industries and, most importantly, with different approach to films. And, as expected, the feedback was very different. Some were more focused on their inner feelings toward a specific film and therefore associate its director to those feelings. However, a problem appeared because they had more than one. They had three, five and even seven directors! Or is that a problem? Some on the other hand were more focused on the actual subjects covered. They literally calculated how many movies by a certain director they fancied, and picked the one who had the most “likes”. Quite mathematical and neat. But too safe if you ask me.

Among all replies I have to highlight two of them, mostly because I liked their approach to this subject and the fact that they were strong and unique. First was sharp, concrete but not easy to get to. We’re talking about a woman who saw everything. Well, not everything per se but close. She stood in front of me being silent for a long time. It looked like she’s going through her mental map – a “mind palace” like Sherlock. And just out of nowhere she said “Ingmar Bergman”. The fact that a person like this decides on one director stunned me. Definitely not what I expected. Not the choice, the choice is so clear, but the number…One! How overwhelming. “Why Bergman” I asked with caution. “The patch he left is extraordinary. You can’t avoid him. Everywhere you go there’s something related to either The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Persona or Autumn Sonata. It’s what you see and feel at the same time. There’s no other way to do this.”

Second approach came from a far (home)land and it came (unsurprisingly) as a division – three directors meet three sections, all carefully selected, emotionally and intimately oriented. “I believe that this is matter of a subconscious choice,” said the man behind the glasses (actually, a monitor). “Why do I like that specific woman? I don’t have the slightest idea. Maybe because she’s a pain in the ass?” He carefully chosen Wong Kar Wai ( the creative closeness criteria), Andrei Tarkovsky (the art closeness criteria) and David Lynch. “His films tore me apart. Whether it was sorrow, happiness, ups or downs, it was easy to get hold of. To grasp. In a way I saw myself as well, like I have never seen before.” Oh yes, I know exactly what he means. “When you tend to reply on questions like these you need to set aside any rational thoughts. We’re talking intimacy here, not numbers. Art is much more than that.” This was pointed to my direction, obviously.

So what about me? Where do I fit in all of this? I tried. I gave my best to dig deeper and choose. But either my approach was completely wrong (and I made a mess of my own idea), or, plain and simple, I just don’t know! Of course, while thinking about it, there were several names joggling around besides Fincher: Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni…But I didn’t have a single reason to pick one of them and just erase the other.

Yes, it’s a pretty tough job. You’ll see it by yourself when you try. And let me tell you, I don’t envy you at all…



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