Monday, June 6, 2011

25 Most Influential Directors

The following is my official entry in The Most Influential Directors Poll over at Michaël Parent's great movie blog Le Mot du Cinephiliaque.  We are asked to name the 10 directors we believe to be the most influential throughout film history but since I can never stop at just 10 (or at the very least have a really difficult time doing so) my list is the 25 most influential directors of all-time.  Take that conformity!

1) Alfred Hitchcock
From Spielberg to Scorsese to De Palma to Tarantino to Godard and Truffaut to Cronenberg to Fincher to Aronofsky to P.T. Anderson to Joe Dante, David Lynch and J.J. Abrams - all these filmmakers (and many many more) owe at least part of their styles and their careers to the Master of Suspense.  His use of colour and the way he moved (or did not move) his camera were highly influential on just about every director that came after him.

2) Jean-Luc Godard
Without Godard, there would not be modern cinema.  Nor for that matter would their be auteurs like Quentin Tarantino or Wong Kar-wai or  Lars von Trier.  More than mere hyperbole, Godard did actually change the way movies were made.  He wasn't alone in doing so (his fellow New Wavers, Truffaut, Rivette, Chabrol and Rohmer were part of this paradigm shift as well) but it was he who was first and foremost when the change in cinematic thinking came about.

3) D.W. Griffith
The originator of feature narrative filmmaking, Griffith set the way for many of the early cinema techniques that are now standard filmmaking fundamentals.  Chaplin called him "The teacher of us all" and Welles said of him "No town, no industry, no profession, no art form owes so much to a single man."  He may not have invented many of the techniques and film grammer he is credited for but he most certainly was the first one to perfect them.

4) John Ford
Perhaps not the creator of the American western but most certainly its perfectionist.  Working with a steadfast attitude and the eye of a poet (though he would never say anything of the sort, choosing instead to describe himself as such, "I'm John Ford.  I make westerns.") Ford gave us what the western was to become, until the revisionists came around, and even then Ford showed them how that was done as well.  Sure, he made other types of movies (and made them extremely well), but it is the western he will be remembered for.

5) Akira Kurosawa
One of those filmmakers highly influenced by early John Ford is that most western of Japanese directors, Akira Kurosawa.    He in turn would influence everyone under the sun.  Several of this master's films were remade in Hollywood and the Spaghetti Western was pretty much created from the ashes of his jidai-geki samurai films.  Even George Lucas took one of his films and turned it into one of the biggest blockbusters of all-time.  His Seven Samurai is still considered, by critics and directors alike, as one of the greatest films ever made.

6) Howard Hawks
The man who could make any movie in any genre.  Hawks made comedies, dramas, westerns, musicals, biblical epics, film noirs, action movies, war films, and made them all with that same determined steady hand that would make him one of the greatest and most revered Hollywood filmmakers of all-time - and probably the most eclectic as well.  Credited with creating the screwball comedy and with making both noir and westerns his own, Hawks is the spiritual grandfather of such directors as diverse as Robert Altman, Richard Linklater, John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino.

7) Charles Chaplin
With an innate ability to make us both laugh and cry within a single scene, Chaplin gave comedy its heart.  While Keaton and Lloyd and others were the better gag writers of the time, it was Chaplin who would create characters and situations that could dig into a viewers subconscious better than anyone.  Highly influential on directors such as Woody Allen and Jacques Tati, Chaplin gave comedy both a new born modernism and a much needed humanism.

8) Jean Renoir
Upon the great directors death in 1979, Orson Welles wrote an article for the L.A. Times called "Jean Renoir: The Greatest of all Directors" - this should say it all.  Renoir, son of the artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, is one of those filmmakers one can call Earth-shattering.  Changing the views of how cinema should be made, Renoir was a master of Poetic Realism in film and had a huge impact on every generation that came after him.

9) Ernst Lubitsch
A director not often cited in such lists as this but a director that damn well should be.  Bringing a European flair to the early sound comedies of Hollywood (the Lubitsch Touch it was called) Lubitsch had a certain way of making innuendo sound so classy.  The implementation of the production killed may have killed this style of elegant comedy but its influence is long-lasting.  If Chaplin gave comedy its heart, Lubitsch gave it its sophistication.

10) Sergei M. Eisenstein
The greatest of the Soviet auteurs, Eisenstein chopped cinema up and turned it on its proverbial head.  A master at montage filmmaking and Eisenstein not only influenced many a future director (especially when it would come to editing) but also made it easier for many of the more experimental filmmakers to make their collective marks on cinematic history.  The careers of such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Nicholas Roeg, Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone (to name just a few) owe much thanks to Eisenstein.

11) Orson Welles
Many may be tempted to put Welles higher on the list than this (and I was too) but here he is at number eleven.  Making Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest film ever made, Welles had a great influence on many younger filmmakers.  Unfortunately for Welles (and for us) Hollywood was not kind to this obvious master director and many of his later films were rarely seen until the cinephile boom of the 1960's.  Still though, he had a great influence on directors such as Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich, and more recently P.T. Anderson and (of course) Quentin Tarantino.

12) Fritz Lang
From his use of German Expressionism and dark themes, Lang was the perfect director to take up the mantle of Hollywood film noir master.  His unique style (partially based on his younger days in Germany's Weimar Cinema and partly on 19th century art) had a strong influence on many a director, including Godard, Rivette, Friedkin and Spielberg.

13) Stanley Kubrick
One of the most visually expressive directors ever, Kubrick is one of those filmmakers responsible for what modern cinema has become (the good parts!) and at the same time, showing what cinema could be in the future.  A cult director of sorts (but not the kind that conjures up memories of B-movie delights) Kubrick's films are fascinating works of ultra-modernist art and therefore has been a huge influence on many of today's younger directors - most notably Wes Anderson, Todd Haynes and P.T. Anderson.

14) Anthony Mann
If Ford invented the western, or at least perfected it, then Mann's psychological revisionaries of the genre re-invented the western and thus made room for the likes of Peckinpah, Leone and later Tarantino (and perhaps even Takashi Miike) when they would revolutionize the genre.  Blurring that line between good and evil in the iconography of the western, Mann made a series of these (mostly starring James Stewart) that would lead to the aforementioned revolution in the genre.

15) Ingmar Bergman
As diverse an influence on such diverse of filmmakers as Lars von Trier, Woody Allen and Terry Gilliam, Bergman was the epitome of what we now call arthouse cinema.  Giving his cinema a sense of austere surreality, Bergman could also be considered the epitome of acquired taste.   Whatever the case, the fact that Bergman is essentially the spiritual father of art cinema is what puts him on this list.

16) Martin Scorsese
So many directors today - Linklater, Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Fincher - owe a great debt to Scorsese just as he himself owes a great debt to past directors such as Kurosawa, Powell & Pressburger, Hitchcock, Nick Ray and Lang.  Being a sort of father to modern American cinema, Scorsese plays as not only an influence as a director but with his encyclopedic knowledge of film history, as a historian as well.

17) Federico Fellini
A mad man maestro of world cinema, Fellini's cinema was a mindfuck of storytelling.  His greatest masterpiece, 8 1/2, laid the groundwork for so many younger directors to follow.  From Gilliam to Greenaway to Nanni Moretti and Woody Allen, Fellini was a precursor to all the giddy oddities that these directors could come up with.

18) John Cassavetes
From younger contemporary Robert Altman to spiritual godson Jim Jarmusch to all those actor-turned-directors around today, Cassavetes is the true grandaddy of indie cinema - the real indie stuff.  With low budgets and a set team of recurring actors (including his wife Gena Rowlands), Cassavetes made the little look gigantic.

19) Billy Wilder
Chaplin created comedy, Lubitsch made it sing and Wilder gave it the chutzpah. What comic director, from Woody Allen to Whit Stillman, doesn't owe some sort of debt of gratitude to the man who is probably the best writer of comedy to ever work in Hollywood.  In my opinion, Some Like it Hot still stands as the best comedy of all-time.

20) David Lean
Personally I find David Lean to be one of the dullest filmmakers of all-time (and his masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia to be highly overrated) but this doesn't blind me from seeing his influence on everyone from James Ivory to Steven Spielberg (of course I am not a big fan of either of these directors either).  Nonetheless, the vast spaces of Lean's cinema (he did know how to shoot a scene though) make for a great influence on many.

21) Woody Allen
I suppose the same argument that one makes for Billy Wilder, one can surely make for Allen.  A great writer of comedy (though perhaps no longer in his hey day) Allen is an obvious influence on filmmakers such as Albert Brooks, Whit Stillman and Edward Burns.  Just his long streak of great films (w/o exception, from 1973 through 1989 the man directed sixteen well-made, important films in a row) should be enough to insure inclusion on this list.

22) Yasujiro Ozu
Much more Japanese in his approach to cinema than his higher ranked younger contemporary Kurosawa, Ozu made quiet, delicate films that splashed around with the love and collectiveness of family and duty and honour.  Influencing not only his fellow countrymen like Takeshi Kitano and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and neighbour Hou Hsiao-hsien from Taiwan, but also Americans like Jarmusch and Finns like Kaurismaki.

23) Elia Kazan
The man who gave us acting - method acting.  Kazan and his New York School which in turn gave us Brando, Steiger, Dean, Monroe and others, is responsible for the maturation of acting in American cinema.  This quite outspoken director (he named names!) is a major influence on the likes of Scorsese and Coppola as well as many of his contemporaries such as Cassavetes and Fuller.

24) Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
This pair, known collectively as The Archers, are way up there on my list of great filmmakers.  In a six year period they made six of the greatest films ever made.  Their influence probably isn't quite as high as my personal admiration of their talents, but Scorsese say he has gotten everything from these two men, so who am I to argue.  Coppola is a big fan as well.

25) Steven Spielberg
By a few years, Spielberg is the youngest director on this list (and the only bona fide baby boomer) so his influence doesn't reach quite as far as others, but the influence is definitely there.  I cannot say I am much of a fan (though I do greatly respect him as a filmmaker) but others - such as Dante, Zemeckis and Stephen Sommers (yeah I know, not the greatest of the pantheon) - do love the man's work.  And I suppose pretty much inventing the blockbuster (for better or for worse) gets him this last spot on the list.  And I do really like Jaws.

There are others I probably should have included on the list, but even I have to stop somewhere.  These sad exclusions are Francois Truffaut, Buster Keaton, Vittorio De Sica, Michelangelo Antonioni, Roman Polanski, George A. Romero, William Castle, Mario Bava, Nick Ray, Satyajit Ray, Ida Lupino, Luchino Visconti (one of my personal all-time favouruites!), John Huston, Frank Capra, Andrei Tarkovsky, F.W. Murnau, Vincente Minnelli, Francis Ford Coppola, Alice Guy Blache, William A. Welmman, Kenji Mizoguchi, Shohei Imamura, Peter Bogdanovich, Walt Disney, Carl Dreyer, Robert Altman, Cecil B. DeMille and Rene Clair (those latter three being my most regretted omissions).  Of course there are younger directors such as David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, Wes Anderson, P.T. Anderson, Wong Kar-wai, Chris Nolan, Richard Linklater, Lars von Trier, The Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino that one day will be on a list such as this.

Well that is my list.  Perhaps I would change much of it tomorrow, switching certain directors around on a critical whim (in fact I did make several changes as I was finalizing my draft) but for right now, on this date, these are my choices for the Most Influential Directors of All-Time.


Christine said...

Great list. And I'm especially happy to see Ozu and Cassavetes on your list.

Unknown said...

Great list! I'd've had Spielberg, Kazan and Hawks slightly higher, dropping down Ford, Kurosawa and Scorsese. Then replace Woody Allen with David Lynch and Powell & Pressburger with Truffaut and that would pretty much be my list. Though if I was being mischievous I might include Polanski or even George Romero.

Very happy with Hitch as number one, though.

Kevyn Knox said...

I was debating about putting Romero on but his influence just isn't that widespread.

And about dropping down Kurosawa - I actually should have put him a bit higher since almost every director working today lists him as an influence.

My biggest regret was not putting on Rene Clair. He gets overlooked a lot (including here obviously) but was a great influence on people as vastly different as Ozu and Wilder. Oh well. I knew I would want to change things almost immediately.

MP said...

Awesome picks! Thank you so much for participating and helping to spread the good word about this little poll I started last year!

Kevyn Knox said...

It was my great pleasure to be part of it.

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