The relationship between director and leading man/woman, is one that has fascinated me for quite some time. There are several that I was aware from the beginning of my film awakening. But the idea became most prevalent while watching Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre. I was in awe of the fact that Bergman chose to stick with the same actors for the most part, and it worked. It worked really well.
Liv Ullman, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson, Max von Sydow and Bergman were the very definition of synergy. It’s almost like a cult. One I would have taken the Kool-aid to be a part of. The crew made watching his films so much more exciting. And when I finally reached Fanny and Alexander, it was basically my wet dream to have them all in one picture, one last time. All except von Sydow, that is, but that wasn’t his fault.
There are other classic pairings as well. Michelangelo Antonioni claimed the insanely hot Monica Vitti as his muse. He put her in several of her movies, including La Notte, L’avventura, and L’eclisse. I’m not a huge disciple of Antonioni’s, but I can still see the how the chemistry between the two added to the cinematic magic. Perhaps Guilietta Masina could be considered Federico Fellini’s leading lady?
This enigmatic pairing happens today as well. Obviously. Sometimes it’s freaking bitchin’. Sometimes it’s definitely not.
One of my favorites is Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman. Sure, they’ve only done three films together. But look at them: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. If you need proof of the power of that relationship, watch any other film Uma Thurman has done. She is simply not a leading lady, unless she has Tarantino behind the camera. Then, she can fill a screen up like few other women in action roles can.
Or how about Mr. Wes Anderson, and Bill Murray. Of the six feature length films that Anderson has directed, Murray has played large roles in five of them. The only exception being Bottle Rocket. And all but one of the five films are real winners. It seems the two have a similar sense of humor that serves them well as filmmakers.
There are most definitely a few directors and actors that should go their own seperate ways. One good film together, does not a successful pairing make. I’ll give Tony Scott and Denzel Washington Man on Fire. It’s a solid revenge flick that makes me care about Dakota Fanning every time I watch it. After this success, the two decided to work together again. And again. The two put out the mediocre The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, and the less than mediocre Deja Vu. Their fourth project together sees them on a train, with no breaks. Co-starring Chris Pine. How did this team go so wrong?
And let’s not forget Tony’s brother, and his unfortunate muse, the tool from Down Under, Russell Crowe. They started out with the mildly good Gladiator, and decided to keep working together. Sadly, the quality of the films these two put out got progressively worse. Robin Hood, Body of Lies, American Gangster. Yeesh.
Regardless of the quality of work produced by this sort relationship, it is one of the most fascinating in the world of filmmaking. No other association seems to produce the sort of creative results we see through this bond.