Author Topic: A Director's Greatness  (Read 307 times)

philip918

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2018, 08:06:24 PM »
Greatness is like pornography: you know it when you see it.
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oldkid

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2018, 10:08:33 PM »
Greatness is like pornography

 :o

Love it. I can agree with all of that, but then how would you apply that to Kubrick and Hitchcock? The two directors most often considered the greatest are not known for drawing out great performances. They more fit a limiting mold.

Ever since I wrote this, I've been thinking about Kubrick, because he was known for over-performing until he obtained a flat performance.  Sometimes this is a difficulty, but what I found that he does is edits from a whole range of performances.  He isn't drawing out a performance, but crafting it from excess material, not unlike how Malick crafts a movie in the editing room.

I think Hitchcock, like Kurosawa and many others, doesn't draw out a performance so much as find great performers and create a context for them to perform in.  I don't think that this quality is the only one that makes a good director, but it certainly adds to it.
"It's not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster." Bansky

MartinTeller

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #12 on: January 26, 2018, 11:05:41 PM »
Martin, what would you say about Kenji Mizoguchi? I always thought of him as a favorite director of yours but I didn’t see anything in your Top 100. Is he like Kitano with me?

He used to be well represented in my top 100, but he's not really one of my favorites anymore. I got bored with him.

smirnoff

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2018, 09:38:54 PM »
I can throw a ball from half court and get it in. Most people can. Anyone with the physical strength to hurl a ball that distance can do it. Does that make us great basketball players? No. Great would be the ability to accomplish that feat at a higher frequency than the majority.

That's one way you could go about answering the question of who is a great director. I mean there's gunna be a million ways to skin this cat, but that's one.

I feel cherry picking a few outstanding films from a director's filmography highlights perhaps instances of great direction, but doesn't necessarily identify a great director. Just as throwing a ball from half court into the hoop is a great shot, but doesn't necessarily identify a great shooter.

So what's a "half-court shot" in directing terms. Different answers for different people really. Whatever abitrary line in the sand you use, whether it's 100% return on investment, or a film that scores 7.5 or better on imdb, it doesn't really matter, provided you apply that benchmark on every attempt in a director's filmography. Then you have to establish what the industry average is so you can identify between "great" and "lucky".

But for fun lets look at a handful of directors, and define an instance of "great direction" (i.e. the halfcourt shot) as a film with a 8.0 imdb rating or better. And then we'll look at the director's filmography and determine how many films they made and what percentage of those films met that criteria. i.e. their shot frequency.

First though we have to define lucky. If anyone can make a half court shot given enough attempts we have to determine what frequency of making that shot that is average and then we can define what frequency is great. This is very difficult to do.

Some director's never make a film that's 8.0 or better... however that does not necessarily mean they couldn't or won't. Their careers may have been too short... they may have been unlucky in that they didn't manage it in their first three attempts and then didn't get thrown good projects ever again. Who knows. Mel Stuart never cracked 8.0. He made Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which was close (7.8 )... but no other major blips. But he also only took 6 attempts at directing feature films. Anyways, I think the average when you factor in EVERY director is near zero.

When you look at all film ratings across imdb the average is about 6.2/10


8.0 is quiet rare. In fact, of films with 5000 votes or better, there are only a little over 800 films to achieve it. However, some directors do achieve it with an uncommon frequency.

Hitchcock managed it 10 times out of 50 films. So 20% of the time.

Curtis Hanson managed it once in 13 attempts. 7.5%

Steve McQueen has done in 1 in 3 attempts. 33%

Alfonso Cuarón is 0 for 9. 0%

Kathryn Bigelow is 0 for 11. 0%

Christopher Nolan is 8 for 10. 80%

Francis Ford Copolla went 3 for 4 in the 1970's, but is 3 for 25 overall... so 12%

...

These are of course BIG names in directing, an nowhere near indicate an average among all directors. Again, I would put the average around zero.

Ultimately though, while it's interesting to look at the question in this way, my feeling is that directors have too few films in their careers to establish a stable (i.e. meaningful) rate of success. Going back to the analogy, a halfcourt shot is something you can do 1000 times a day for thousands of days in which you are phyiscally capable. A director can only make a couple films a year. A few dozen in a lifetime, max. So there's that problem. Evens so... directors that manage it more than once in their career... well it's pretty damn uncommon.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2018, 09:49:44 PM by smirnoff »

1SO

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #14 on: January 27, 2018, 11:26:36 PM »
Reading these posts is like therapy to me, challenging my views in the best ways.


smirnoff, how much of a film's success is the credit/fault of the director? How much can you blame a director for a bad script? Or not having final cut? What if they were allowed to make the film only if they cast the producers son in one of the major roles? Now you have a talented director taking blame for a standout horrible performance.

On the recent podcast, everyone was praising Sean Baker's ability to get great performances from children and inexperienced adults in The Florida Project. What if that's just not a skill Martin Scorsese has, does it make him a bad director? Is James Gunn a great director because so far he's the only person to get a great performance out of Dave Bautista? Does that make him better than Sam Mendes or Denis Villeneuve?

MartinTeller

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #15 on: January 28, 2018, 12:11:10 AM »
Using IMDb scores as an indicator of quality seems pretty misguided to me. If you look at IMDb voting demographics, it's overwhelmingly males 18-44 (which explains the absurdly high showing for Nolan).

smirnoff

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #16 on: January 28, 2018, 12:28:47 AM »
smirnoff, how much of a film's success is the credit/fault of the director? How much can you blame a director for a bad script? Or not having final cut? What if they were allowed to make the film only if they cast the producers son in one of the major roles? Now you have a talented director taking blame for a standout horrible performance.

On the recent podcast, everyone was praising Sean Baker's ability to get great performances from children and inexperienced adults in The Florida Project. What if that's just not a skill Martin Scorsese has, does it make him a bad director? Is James Gunn a great director because so far he's the only person to get a great performance out of Dave Bautista? Does that make him better than Sam Mendes or Denis Villeneuve?

Such a hard question or problem, and you've outlined why perfectly. I thought about trying to go down that avenue in the last post. It's a question or problem I think about so often. Every time I write a review it comes up. Both when I'm trying to assign credit or blame for elements of a film, but also when I'm analyzing my own reaction to it. Trying to find the real reason a thing worked or didn't work. Because I think it's possible, maybe even common, to mistakenly attribute liking a film to an element that in another context would not be seen as exceptional. I feel I probably do this as much as anyone even while trying not to. For instance, Tom Hanks is great in Forrest Gump, and I love Forrest Gump so I attribute a lot of my love of the film to Hanks performance. But is Tom Hanks not also great in... everything? Yet there are several of his films I do not care for. So how much of my love of Forrest Gump is really attributable to Hanks? The more I go down that rabbit hole the more successes begin to look like luck. A fortunate coming together of many things, all happening to be executed exceptionally well during the same film. And it's very hard to say how many pieces you could pull out before the house of cards comes down. Even one? Or a person could argue that is precisely what a director does, is pull together these elements and have them work in sync with each other. And yet the reality, as you noted, is not so pure. There are other influences at play. Other forces forcing certain actions to be taken. Perhaps, sometimes, a favourable action, by accident. In other words, luck.

I don't have the knowledge of statistics to back it up, but I feel like an argument could be made that given the number of directors out there producing the number of films that have been produced, having a few directors who happen to have a run of exceptionally popular films is to be expected. Flipping a coin heads several times in a row is simply bound to happen with that number of flips. Is it greatness or chance?

Looking at any one successful director, immediately a narrative in your head begins that rails against that hypothesis. "Kubrick made a series of deliberate, smart decisions which lead to a series of successful films...". Something like that right? But were they smart at the moment, or merely proven smart afterwards. How many "smart" decisions did it appear that Ang Lee was making during Hulk? An established and successful director at the time, but no so successful he wouldn't have had anyone around who could tell him "no" if they thought it was headed sideways. And how many of either directors decisions were deliberate or forced by circumstance?

Is Kubrick a statistical inevitability? If he is, can he still be great? I think so... but it's the sort of greatness that keeps you from having an idolatrous appreciation for the person. I'm more inclined to have an idolatrous appreciation for the work or the outcome... like a rare formation in nature, which had no "guiding hand" and yet it is a singular occurence and beautiful to behold.

Elephant Point. Mahabaleshwar, India

smirnoff

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #17 on: January 28, 2018, 12:31:51 AM »
Using IMDb scores as an indicator of quality seems pretty misguided to me. If you look at IMDb voting demographics, it's overwhelmingly males 18-44 (which explains the absurdly high showing for Nolan).

It's probably futile to try and define a director's greatness on anything but a personal level anyways, but if you do, there are very few data sets out there to work from that are meaningful.

Are we sure that film watching demographics are not also overwhelmingly males 18-44? *looks around the forum* :))

MartinTeller

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #18 on: January 28, 2018, 11:14:21 AM »
Using IMDb scores as an indicator of quality seems pretty misguided to me. If you look at IMDb voting demographics, it's overwhelmingly males 18-44 (which explains the absurdly high showing for Nolan).

It's probably futile to try and define a director's greatness on anything but a personal level anyways, but if you do, there are very few data sets out there to work from that are meaningful.

Are we sure that film watching demographics are not also overwhelmingly males 18-44? *looks around the forum* :))

Film WATCHING? No. Film discussion on the internet? I would say so, certainly.

And yes, trying to find an objective measure of greatness is a futile endeavor. You could reference canonical lists, but those are also largely dominated by a white male demographic. Those kind of lists can be terrific avenues to new discoveries but I reject notions of objective greatness, and those who claim to be authorities on it.

smirnoff

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #19 on: January 28, 2018, 02:56:11 PM »
Are we sure that film watching demographics are not also overwhelmingly males 18-44? *looks around the forum* :))
Film WATCHING? No. Film discussion on the internet? I would say so, certainly.
It would be interesting to learn what the true numbers were.

Quote
And yes, trying to find an objective measure of greatness is a futile endeavor. You could reference canonical lists, but those are also largely dominated by a white male demographic. Those kind of lists can be terrific avenues to new discoveries but I reject notions of objective greatness, and those who claim to be authorities on it.

Likewise. It's a fun playground to play in though isn't it... provided you understand a consensus is not an objective truth. Like you say, it has no authority, but it does have utility.