Is A Director Really That Important?


When young baby-faced producer Irving Thalberg fired legendary director Eric von Stroheim from his film Merry-Go-Round in 1923 it was apparent to all involved in the motion picture business that the age of director had ended. Prior to this and another event in 1927 – the release of the first all-sound picture, The Jazz Singer – the director had been king, ruler of the faces and guide to poor lost actors and actresses.

Following that he became a lesser being, although still wildly respected. I make note of course to a few directors such as Alfred Hitchcock who were kings; I would list Stanley Kubrick but I shan’t because Kubrick was also a screenwriter – and a good one. I mention that because as directors declined with the intrusion – or was it gift? – of sound, the screenwriters reigned supreme, a most dislikeable trait for a writer who must always be a narcissist regarding his work. With the death of faces and body language came the rise of dialogue, which most directors could not manage to control.

This is the dark side of Hollywood as I have seen it; when stars and various people of position are no longer required they are cast out to the side, gone, kaput. Goodbye career. Producers are the current kings of cinema. Generally they have been in the background, using the director as a puppet. They can be a wonderfully caustic people with big egos, which is probably why I dislike them so – because they remind me of myself. They are a dichotomy of a desire to create a great picture and an inflicting desire to make money.

“One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony. It is essential that one man make a film”

– Stanley Kubrick

What though, does a director actually do? Certain members of this most exclusive club are what we like to call visionaries, meaning they have done something no-one has done before. Although, it is something someone has probably thought of before. In some cases directors introduce an idea but the true interpreter of this idea then becomes the cameraman or cinematographer. Eventually, when principal photography has ended, the editor becomes the interpreter of the screenwriters vision and then finally it reaches us, wild and curious audiences who will either appraise or condemn it for its various feats and demerits.

Directors receive far much more acclaim for their work than writers. Argo will always be a Ben Affleck picture whereas it should be a Chris Terrio picture, for Chris Terrio is its inventor; the writer. Great films like The Departed and Taxi Driver will be Martin Scorsese pictures, even though he had no input into the screenplay. After-all, the screenplay is what an entire film is made of, it is the most essential part, the blue-print. Film is the closest thing we have to novels, and for that reason it is a sacred art ruled by directors, who don’t, in most cases, do all that much.

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