It seems that we lionise some less than prolific auteurs at the expense of their busier colleagues?
I thinking about how we generally view guys like Malick, who I love, and not say, Sidney Lumet? If Lumet had only made 12 Angry Men, The Hill, The Pawnbroker, Dog Day Afternoon and The Verdict, would he be a more significant figure in criticland? Do guys like Hal Ashby or Arthur Penn or Bob Rafelson cop a sweet ride compared to Scorsese and Pollack, who probably more than tripled their output. I look down the list of fav directors I have, and get guilty that I neglected those guys. Are we somehow biased against output?
Quality over quanity, always. Just take Woody Allen for example, who must hold the record, who has made forty or so movies, probably three or four of which we’ll remember. Of Bresson’s fourteen, five or six will stay forever. Do the math.
Jeff Buckley, Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis all agree with you.
definitly quality over quantity, however I would have to say that if a high quantity was consistantly quality then I don’t think that woulld be overlooked (but this is a hard objective and I’m not sure that a high output allows for the about of thought and effort that ‘quality’ needs).
I think critical acclaim pushes directors who give a varying degrees of a rat’s ass about critical acclaim to become more prolific directors.
I agree, but even if the hit rate is less, some of these guys have made standout films.
Musically if Elton had died after Madman Across The Water he’d be as deified as Nick Drake I think…. unfortunately he lived long enough to become a caricature of his former self… you see that with actors a bit… Nicholson and De Niro spring to mind. Is it the same with Directors?
Paul… I Love Kurt, like Jeff, tolerate Ian.
Edouard…. maybe they spread themselves too thin?
“Musically if Elton had died after Madman Across The Water he’d be as deified as Nick Drake I think”
He’d also be dead. I’m pretty sure Elton is pleased at how things shook out.
my point is how we percieve artistic worth, not that old Elton is still kicking. Comment on the point if you like….
I think we tend to unconsciously look down (or at least wish it weren’t the case) on low productions for favorite directors. I was speaking with a friend about Michael Mann (a director who, if you look a few pages ago on the main forum page, is my favorite American director), and I was saying that the only thing “wrong” with his career was his low output. He then said he didn’t think low output is bad, considering the stuff he actually has made. It then hit me that it didn’t bother me for other directors of notoriously low output, e.g. Terence Malick. But that’s just me, and for a personal favorite.
“The difference between a mediocre artist and a great artist is the great artist works every day”…PICASSO
I apologize for being obtuse. Artists with larger bodies of work have more to scrutinize and pick over. It’s true.
I guess I’m just being critical of the question because there is not much to debate. If a director makes a lot of movies they stand a significant chance of making multiple films that don’t resonate with people. Do people who make one or two quality films get a critical free ride as compared to those who have shown themselves as capable of mediocrity as they are of genius thanks to putting themselves “out there” more? I just don’t there’s a good counter for the Law of Averages here.
The problem with using “critical acclaim” as your touchstone is that you’re asking whether or not less prolific artists have it too easy because fewer subjective judgements can be levied against their bodies of work. Making a lot of movies can spring from an overflow of things you want to express or stories you want to tell or rampant narcisism. Do fewer patrons make one a LESS worthwhile artist?
You have to be fking kidding me. Critical acclaim for directors depend on many factors, least to say how critics used to rate their work. Now it no longer matters, prolific directors who succeed at their craft are not artisians who labor two three years on a movie, it’s those who develop a body of work and keep moving. In the 60’s and 70’s, it was possible for a director to develop his body of work without being pigeonholed by one flop or one hit. Today a hit allows you to work again, a flop allows you into movie jail. Unless you’re Joel Schumacker who keeps making movies regardless of their returns. Times have changed, and are directors and how many films they make a year devoid to critical acclaim.
To Picasso and Joseph:
Based on Uwe Boll’s prolific output I would venture to guess that he presently “works every day”.
So the legend goes, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” was written right after Bernie Taupin walked into Elton’s apartment only to find him with his head in the oven trying to off himself. So Elton tried to go all Nick Drake, but couldn’t hack it.
i think more often than not, directors who make a small concentrated body of films are celebrated more than directors who turn out a lot of work. a large body of work runs that much more of a risk of becoming commmon and pedestrian.
but also, filmmaking is tough, tough sledding. i dont believe that you can really make quality work by turning out a film or two a year. its just too hard. the creative batteries need to be recharged for a huge undertaking like filmmaking. plus, the more films you make, the more bad stuff you make. it just doesn’t work the opposite way. look at all the films scorsese has made. a lot of horrible stuff in there. and he’s not getting better, he’s getting worse. hitchcock made a whole lot of films, and a lot of bad ones. godard is making a ton of films, and plenty of bad ones too. and i love hitchcock and godard to death.
filmmakers with a concentrated body of work, like kubrick or bresson or jarmusch, they just seem to be more on top of their game. i dont think that’s a coincidence.
Critical acclaim changes with the weather (maybe even more often and more severely), so this question is kind of frivolous, but I’ll play along.
It depends on what the critical acclaim is based on. There is some merit in making a consistently high quality film, even if they are not all masterpieces. I see some criticisms of Scorsese and Woody Allen above and it just blows my mind. I would take their “worst” over the run-of-the-mill weekly releases any day of the week. And even if, for the sake of argument, they did make some “bad” films, does that take away from their prowess as a great filmmaker? I do not think it should. Their masterpieces stand alone and a director should be judged by those, and not their entire body of work.
If they are prolific, it is almost like the icing on the cake for me. Great directors putting out more work. How is this bad again? It dilutes their overall body of work? Not if they’re putting themselves into it, like Scorsese and Woody Allen. Even if you feel their films are weaker in terms of technique or style, there is still their personal stamp on the film, their voice, and I think that is a highly overlooked quality today because there are so few true “voices”.
I think one of the issues with critics is that they seem to be chasing some pie-in-the-sky idea of an ideal film and then judge the one they’re watching based on how it measures up to that. Instead of seeing the merits within the work plainly as they are. And if there are none, then there are none, but Scorsese is not going to make a Raging Bull each time out of the gate. But, that being said, it does not imply that coming close is a bad thing.
I think Sturgeon’s Law applies to any undertaking, including filmmaking (“90% of everything is crap”).
On one side is the workman director, who charges out products of wildly varying quality and is obessessed with deadlines. Woody Allen was used as an example already as this type: approaching 50 films, he has 3-6 potential classics. Also Spike Lee, approaching 50 films, and it could be argued 2-3 potential classics. Norman Jewison, 40 films, 2 potential classics. David Bowie is an example from music. He has 50-70 singles/classic hits. His total catalogue exceeds 700 songs. 90% crap.
I think on the other side of the spectrum are the gifted kids, Jarmusch, Almodovar, and Kubrick. They are brilliant, sensitive, seem lazy or perfectionistic, and don’t have a large output. Regardless, they are also pushing against the same wall of 90% . I conjecture that these directors abandon projects no one hears about once they sense the product will be crap. Maybe in the writing stage, before anyone else is involved. For them, 90% of what they do is still crap; they just have the ability/sense/freedom to smother their creations before they spend too much time on them. Then they polish, or over polish, projects that meet their personal criteria for not being obviously crappy. This might push their ratio of good films/total films up, but even die-hard fans of these directors know (or have opinions about) which films are minor works (STRANGER THAN PARADISE, KIKA, THE SHINING). Within these director-specific catalogues, there is varying quality. The volatility can be dampened but not eliminated.
So at the extremes, directors either churn out 50 to get 4-5 good ones, or work slowly to produce 16 and get 4-5.
Being prolific won’t hurt per se. It just makes the search for a great movie by that director more daunting, having to sort through more dreck.
That is a really astute observation.
Vallaem- thanks for using some Yiddish…! the larger the body of work the larger the ten percent…
I’m amazed that no-one’s mentioned Rainer Werner Fassbinder yet – a director who wanted to celebrate his 30th birthday with the release of his 30th feature (he missed that target, but not by much), and who managed to notch up a whopping 43 before he died at the age of 36.
And his critical standing didn’t seem to suffer – or rather, while he certainly made plenty of terrible films (ever seen Whity? Few have), they were comprehensively outweighed by the undoubted masterpieces – just as Takashi Miike’s equally phenomenal workrate doesn’t in any way diminish the gut-punch impact of Audition.
Then again, Picasso knocked both of those into a cocked hat when it came to sheer quantity of output, and he still seems to be doing pretty well in the critical stakes.
In fact, there’s a very strong argument in favour of prolixity, which is that the artists in question have more scope to experiment and therefore more room to fail, and to get away with failure. Michael Powell made something like eighteen low-budget quickies before his first truly personal feature, The Edge of the World, and said that the experience was crucial to his creative development. In fact, most British and Hollywood directors of his generation could say the same thing – Alfred Hitchcock certainly could, and no-one sane would argue that Easy Virtue and Waltzes from Vienna have even a fraction of the cultural value of Notorious and Vertigo. On the other hand, if you only turn out a film every six or seven years, expectations are massively inflated and rarely fulfilled.
Shotzi… but I don’t think Elton was after immortality with the critics when he turned on the gas, which was pretty half-assed as he left the windows open!
nice points Bobby Wise… I think the more time and care that goes into work generally, the better the return.
As for the 90% crap rule, I think that’s a bit harsh on Bowie for one (50% yes) and Kubrick? come on… even at his worst he’s head and shoulders above most others.
As a group we’re mostly suckers for the recieved wisdom of ‘experts’…… we’re conditioned to succumb to it, it’s in the fabric of society, probably in our DNA. Yes critical acclaim does shift, but it plays a big part in how we view Directors like it or not. The contributors here are sharp enough not to confuse popularity with ability, so I don’t think this topic is as facile as some.
thanks for the replies.
i prefer to judge a director by his entire body of work, not one or two masterpieces. a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. artists leave behind a body of work when they die. not one or two films that they say, “ok, forget about all the other crap i did. judge me on this film alone.”
maybe that’s wrong, and maybe its right. but i see an entire body of work as a conversation with the public. you dont ignore parts of the conversation for only the parts you like. critically speaking, if we’re talking obituary, and rendering final judgement on an artist, you take into account everything. hits and misses. you dont cherry pick what you like and leave the rest on the trash heap.
Yes, I’m sorry to those directors who have a higher output, but you can’t just ignore 90% of their movies. Good for them for making more money and getting more practice, but their garbage movies do taint their masterpieces.
My example would be Coppola vs Kubrick. If you compared both of their top 3 movies, you would conclude that these are two of the greatest directors of all time. However once you get past the Godfather-Apocalypse Now era, Coppola has a whole bunch of mediocre and even some bad films in his resume. Meanwhile, even Kubrick’s worst work is still fairly close to those top 3, whichever 3 of his you might like. So, I just can’t give Coppola the same status as a filmmaker that I would give Kubrick. And that would be purely for the reason you mentioned: That he was more prolific and thereby “dragged down” the overall quality of his catalog of films.
Well, while I agree almost 100% with what Tony Stark has to say, I think that it’s silly to bring this into question. Take each work for what it’s worth. Besides, a film doesn’t have to be a deathless masterpiece to be good. It just has to be good. And personally, I think Lumet ranges from good to really good, but I don’t see him as an all-time great.
It is interesting to note the Ten Year prinicple that a cohort of Felini’s brought into mention; for the great masters of modern film, there does tend to be a span of ten years from their first unquestionable masterpiece to their last. And note: that’s not an absolute, just a barometer.
And for what it’s worth, RW Fassbinder was a director of extremely high facility and intelligence; he did dozens of astoundingly well made films in a sadly small amount of years. (His life-span was significantly shorter than either Kubrick’s or Coppola’s carreers. In fact, I haven’t done the math, but I think RWF lived only three-times the length of the average Tarkovsky film. Who made only a small amount of films. All of which are of an extremely high standard.)
I do not like to render final judgment on artists, so yes, I cherry pick the masterpieces and focus on those. If they made some bad ones along the way, so be it. It doesn’t change the fact that at some point in their career, they reached the glorious heights of cinematic immortality. Why scoff at people making mistakes or having a bad run? I don’t see a point.
It just becomes ranking filmmakers and favorites and acting superior (not saying you are) at spotting some dents in the armor, don’t you think?
Re: Musycks: Sorry Elton, but aside from Sandy Denny, no one deserves mention alongside Nick Drake.
And thanks for mentioning Jeff Buckley, whoever—because while everyone thinks of him as younger than his dad, as an artist Tim showed more maturity at the age of 22 than his son would at 27—to say nothing of all the ground Tim covered, (and created!) between Goodbye and Hello to Starsailor. Jeff did one GREAT album, and couldn’t deliver a second—within two years! I LOVE Jeff; but Tim went alot farther in much less time.
Yeah, of course the problem with what I said is that you have to ignore some of the crappy movies. Directors have made movies while they were starving just to make a few dollars. Or a prolific director may have a number of “lost” movies that almost nobody has seen. So I guess you can make a few mistakes, and they would be outweighed by your better films, as long as you can maintain a high level of quality through that 10 year window Fellini was talking about. Then, if you are Coppola, you should retire so you could have the Godfathers (unsoiled by the third one), The Conversation, Apocalypse Now and The Outsiders as your legacy.
No T Hanks…. I think Drake is very good, but had he not died and the subsequent hagiography, would he be as revered? Elton more than matched him during the same period… and as good as Sandy Denny was, I’ll take the mighty Richard Thompson over them all!!
Musycks; it would be silly to quibble over details when we both love the same giants. I likes ya already!
Agreed…. life is short enough. Now about Tom………..