Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Good Directors Gone Bad!

Back in the spring, my then-Screengrab editor Bilge approached the staff with the idea for a regular feature called When Good Directors Go Bad. Intrigued by the idea, I latched onto it and somewhat unwittingly claimed it as my own (sorry fellow 'Grabbers). What I liked most about the idea was the way it caused me to re-examine the careers of some extremely talented filmmakers. Most directors' fans would like us to think of their heroes' careers as a nonstop string of classics, but in reality these filmmakers, while often brilliant, were capable of subpar or even terrible movies. Even Ingmar Bergman has a Serpent's Egg leaving an unpleasant smudge on his filmography.

Soon after I started writing the pieces, I had to decide not only what they were going to be, but also what they weren't. Since the first of the year, I've been enjoying Nathan Rabin's regular My Year of Flops posts over at the AV Club Blog, which are always hilarious and often perceptive as well. But it quickly became apparent that When Good Directors Go Bad had to be something different. For one thing, we're not always drawing from the same pool of movies. He's chosen some works by talented filmmakers, but just as often he's tackled junk like Battlefield: Earth and Catwoman, whose semi-forgotten directors stand little risk of being selected for a WGDGB piece. In addition, the MYoF pieces have an occasional tendency to sacrifice critical insight for pop-culture-savvy humor. Now, I don't begrudge Mr. Rabin this- how would YOU write about The Island of Dr. Moreau? But that sort of thing just isn't my bag. He does it well, and I wouldn't want to step on his toes. Besides, I wanted to help Screengrab carve out its own identity, rather than looking like an AV Club wannabe.

In the end, I believe in the philosophy of hoping everything I see will be good. Despite the When Good Directors Go Bad name, I don't approach the films with knives drawn. The movies I've chosen so far have been critically savaged, but I hope for the occasional misunderstood gem, something I finally found when I wrote up Woody Allen's Stardust Memories last month. By extension, it gives me no pleasure to witness a filmmaker I admire or even love make a movie that doesn't work, which is probably why I have yet to write up The Bonfire of the Vanities. But it does give me a certain amount of insight into that filmmaker's style and his obsessions, the kind of insight that can only be gained by seeing them applied in a way that ultimately defeats him. And with a few exceptions, the films are fascinating even when they don't work. I guess I'm just a big softy, something that should serve me well on my next two pieces, in which I intend to tackle a couple of the most notorious Hollywood genre movies of recent years. Wish me luck!

1 comment:

Jason_alley2 said...

I approach movies like that too. I like to approach every movie like it's going to be good.

And on the subject of When Good Directors Go Bad, I actually like "Ready To Wear" - it's got a LOT of problems and is certainly nowhere near Altman's better films, but it's got some very nice touches and is still interesting even where it falters.

I've been enjoying My Year Of Flops too...at least until he labeled "Strange Days" (one of my all-time favorites and one of the most exhilarating theatrical experiences I've ever had) a "fiasco". It was financially, buy artistically it's a very different matter in my opinion.