The Original Mind
A film article by: Witney Seibold
Few filmmakers have had the proper combination of talent, vision, imagination, and gumption to rattle the cinema world’s cage. We tend to sprinkle the word “masterpiece” a bit too liberally these days, forgetting that there were people who truly did have the ability to bring about change. Here then are five grandmasters to consider in no particular order:
Alfred Hitchcock. Often called “the master of suspense,” but so much more, Hitchcock not only played with filmic tricks (Vertigo, Rope), but was able to push the envelope of what was horrific and appropriate for the time. He was the first filmmaker to feature a flushing toilet on camera. That’s not nothing. He was able to rope in big stars and sneakily play them against type. What other filmmaker could make Jimmy Stewart creepy? See: Psycho, North by Northwest, Notorious.
Jean-Luc Godard. Mr. JLG pretty much singlehandedly started the French New Wave with his film Breathless in 1960. The French New Wave, while these days seeming trite and “arty” (Not to mention “French”), was revolutionary at the time, and inspired an entire generation of American filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and even Steven Spielberg. He still lives, and is making opaque and questionable social essays like In Praise of Love, but his original influence should not and cannot be forgotten. See: Vivre sa Vie, Masculin Feminin.
Billy Wilder. A man who did not invent anything new, but did what he did with such glorious precision, that he must be considered a master of the art. Whether light romantic comedies (Some Like It Hot), penetrating social dramas (Stalag 17), noir (Double Indemnity), or noir satire (Sunset Blvd.), Billy Wilder did everything right. Be sure to see Ernst Lubitsch and Cameron Crowe in the same sitting to see his history. The former was his primary influence (he reportedly had a sign over his door reading “What would Lubitch do?”), the latter his contemporary homage-payer.
Akira Kurosawa. The master of the samurai film, an expert of Japanese social drama, a wry observer of the criminal element, and the man who pretty much introduced the country of Japan to the western world (The Mikado notwithstanding). Kurosawa has probably influenced every living filmmaker. From The Magnificent Seven, to Star Wars, to Hoodwinked. Kurosawa just knows what the hell he’s doing. See: Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Ran, Ikiru. Hell, anything.
Stanley Kubrick. And what list of this sort would be complete without Kubrick? Kubrick’s touch was entirely original and no filmmaker has dared to imitate him. His unusual universes, ultra-mannered acting, sense of pacing and calm, and mastery of striking images has put the man at the top of his craft. That he was able to conceive masterpieces as disparate as Dr. Strangelove (‘60s politics), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Science fiction), Full Metal Jacket (war), A Clockwork Orange (social satire), and Eyes Wide Shut (sex)… it’s incredible. See any of his films. All are worth something.
The masters remind us of where the cinematic art form came from. Watching any of these filmmakers works will bring to mind to original meaning of the word “masterpiece,” and perhaps we will be more able to recognize budding masters of the modern age. And not throw the word away on something like Glory Road.