Thursday, August 9, 2012

The 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 critics and cinephiles were asked to name the 10 directors we believe to be the most influential throughout film history as well as the film that best showcases said influence.  My choices for last year's poll (where I extended it to 25 due to my tendency to ramble on) can be viewed here.  As I am sure you will notice, I have made some changes to this new list.  

These changes come about not necessarily because these directors became more or less influential over the past year, but because (and I am stealing a line from Prince now) maybe I'm just like my mother, she's never satisfied.  Whatever the case, I have flip-flopped numbers one and two, changed a few others up and/or down, kicked three to the proverbial curb and replaced them with three that missed the cut last time around.  And please take note that this is not a list of my favourite directors, but of the ones I believe have had the biggest and most influence on film history and later directors.  Granted, there are several crossovers on these two lists, but I digress.  So, without further ado, here are my choices for the most influential directors of all-time.

1) Jean-Luc Godard - It is a common assumption amongst cinephiles that without Jean Luc Godard, modern cinema would, at least the better qualities of it, look a whole hell of a lot different than it currently does.  I believe this is more than just mere assumption, and instead falls firmly into the realm of direct fact.  Jason Kliot, of Open City Pictures and Blow Up Films, says, "Godard to modern film is what Picasso is to modern art—the ultimate daredevil and pioneer, the man who had no fear, the man willing to try anything in any genre and push it to its limits." Along with fellow New Wavers, Godard not only changed the way cinema was made, but also the way we looked at it.  Without Breathless, a groundbreaking work of the art, or films like Band of Outsiders, Contempt and Weekend, we may not have filmmakers like Wong Kar-wai, John Woo, Gregg Araki, Wes Anderson, Gaspar Noe, Catherine Breillat, Chantal Ackerman or Quentin Tarantino.  Just think about that baby.

2) Alfred Hitchcock - I had Hitch in the top spot when I did this list last year, but he has been taken out by Godard.  But this by no means should make one believe that the Master of Suspense has fallen from grace.  In fact, let's face it, this is pretty much a dead heat tie for the top spot really.  An influence on so many directors, from Spielberg to De Palma to Terry Gilliam, Hitchcock has defined what cinema has become lo these past sixty years or so.  I think Hitchcock's influence is more noticeable than Godard's, with more homages having been created to honour him, but I believe Godard's influence is more ingrained in the creation of cinema itself than Hitch's.  But still, without Hitch, we would not have had such great films like Jaws or Dressed to Kill or Play Misty For Me or Peeping Tom.

3) Orson Welles - Godard said that without Welles, none of us would be here.  Can't argue with that.  Always at odds with those in power - Citizen Kane is really the only Welles production that came out the way the director wanted it, without interference from the studio and/or money men - Welles probably had a lot more inside him, but being the cinematic genius that he was, it was always so hard to get things done.  But what he did get done - Kane, Ambersons, Lady From Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Trial, his Shakespeare work - is all beyond brilliant.

4) Akira Kurosawa - The man who made the samurai into a legendary hero that transgressed genres and nations and became the symbol of bravery and chivalry - even moreso than the knight of old - one need look no further than John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (a remake of Seven Samurai), Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (based on Yojimbo) or George Lucas’ Star Wars (inspired by Hidden Fortress) to give credit where credit is most certainly due.  The most legendary of Japanese filmmakers who was actually more revered in the west than he ever was in his native land.  Good for us then.

5) Billy Wilder - I don't think there is a comedy today, be it high brow (Woody Allen's Manhattan) or low brow (Bridesmaids) that does not owe something to Billy Wilder.  And this was a guy who could do drama and noir and action just as well as comedy.  Simply put, he was so great at so many things, and without him, what would people like Woody Allen or Whit Stillman look like?

6) D.W. Griffith - I suppose without Griffith there would not be cinema at all.  No, he did not invent it, but he did re-invent it and made it what it became.  I also suppose that with this argument, one could easily make a case for the old Victorian charmer to top this list.  I mean, without him, there would be no Welles, and therefore no Godard, and therefore no modern cinema.  Hmmmm?

7) Howard Hawks - The man that could take any genre, from noir to western to adventure to musical to sci-fi to thriller to the screwball comedy that he near invented if not at least perfected, and make it sing like nothing else before it.  The precursor to such modern day equivalents as Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater, Hawks was, and always will be, simply put...The Man.

8) John Ford - The great man Ford claimed that he was just a guy who made westerns, but this modesty aside, he not only made westerns (and other types of films as well by the way) he made the western what it became and still is today - influencing everyone from Anthony Mann to Sergio Leone to Sam Peckinpah to Clint Eastwood to Andrew Dominick.

9) Stanley Kubrick - Kubrick is actually my personal favourite director of all-time, and his greatest masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey is number two on my favourite films list, and I would guess that he sits pretty high up on those lists made by Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Chris Nolan, Tim Burton, the Brothers' Coen and Tarantino as well. 

10) John Cassavetes - Cassavetes' influence may be more on the improvisational style of acting in his films, than on his filmmaking techniques themselves.  Perhaps seeming to be too chaotic and and jumbled for mass audiences, nonetheless, the way Cassavetes and his stable of regulars would reach the deepest and darkest depths of human emotion is, save for perhaps Kazan, beyond reproach.

I could go on, but I will stop there.  To point out some other obvious runners-up though, one need only look at directors such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jean Renoir, Vincente Minnelli, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Luis Buñuel, Sergei Eisenstein, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray, George A. Romero, Francis Ford Coppola, Jacques Tourneur, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Jacques Tati, F.W. Murnau, Mario Bava, Stanley Donan, and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.  Just to name a few.


Amir said...

Hah, I always associate that line with Patti Smith before Prince because I think her cover is immeasurably better than the original.

What I find interesting about this list is that, it looks very similar to what I would have come up with and I think a lot of other cinephiles. In fact, with the exeception of Dziga Vertov and Ozu, I can't think of any director I can to your list (including your honorable mentions). Whereas a list of my 'favourite' directors I'm sure would be much different from yours or everybody else's. It always tells me so much about myself as a film-watcher and the difference I subconciously assume between what I love and what I don't love but admire and respect.

Kevyn Knox said...


If asked to name my favourites, I would have to say Kubrick, Powell/Pressburger, Scorsese, Visconti, Nick Ray, Hawks, Bergman, Tarantino, Welles and Hitchcock.

At least off the top of my head.

And yes, Patti Smith does give the song something, but I think I still enjoy the original more.

Amir said...

That's a damn fine list.
I'd have to think hard about who I can call a favourite, but Bunuel, Truffaut and P.T. Anderson will for sure be on the list.
Bergman, Pasolini, Tarantino, Kiarostami, Allen, Polanski, Lynch, Coen Bros. and Haneke would be the rest of my top dozen if I had to do it off the top of my head.

Sam Fragoso said...

Digging this list Kevyn. Something to learn from indeed.

As I've mentioned to you before, you're the inspiration behind the History of Film -- most of these filmmakers listed have films on those lists.