How nice it is, nowadays, to come upon a film directed by someone with whom you go back a ways, and feel some familiarity. Someone for whom you even feel, or have felt, some friendship. Scheduled to open this week, as an example, in fact as two examples, are films directed by Woody Allen and John Boorman, Melinda and Melinda and In My Country. Both of these men, just this side and just that side of seventy respectively, have been directing films for more or less four decades, although, inasmuch as no director can keep pace with Allen over that span of time, Boorman has not directed half as many. The latter nonetheless had a run of three films in a span of five years -- Deliverance, Zardoz, Exorcist II: The Heretic -- that ensure my abiding interest, if not my unwavering loyalty, for as long as he can totter on to another project. Meanwhile, Allen's audience, you will have noticed, has abandoned him in droves since the halcyon days of Love and Death and Annie Hall, and yet, for me, even such trifles as Small Time Crooks and Hollywood Ending are sufficient to fan the flame of hope. I can get up for these movies. And as soon as the Final Four can be distilled to One Shining Moment, I promise I will.
It was right after the start of the new year that I compiled in these pages, as a sort of rhetorical stunt, a list of fifty directors of some renown or past promise (Soderbergh, Spielberg, etc.) whose films in the bygone year had not exactly panned out into gold. This was meant as a word of caution: big names won't guarantee big rewards; beware. But we are now three months into the new year, a quarter of the way through it, and I feel today that I would rather receive silt from any of those fifty directors -- pebbles, dirt, dust -- than what I have been given instead. Granted, Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby opened locally within this calendar year, though I myself first saw it within the previous calendar. Were he included in the passing parade, he would stand out like Gulliver in Lilliput. Without him, or despite him, a sort of reverse stunt, a back flip, could be pulled off with a list of the directors of neither renown nor promise who have trooped past us so far in 2005.
Here, weeding out the unrenowned documentarians and foreign-language filmmakers, they come -- hut, two, three, four -- in alphabetical order: Shona Auerbach, Mike Binder, Uwe Boll, Rob Bowman, Thomas Carter, Richard Day, Frederik Du Chau, Tim Fywell, Terry George, Darren Grant, F. Gary Gray, Lawrence Guterman, Dan Harris, Stephen Herek, Nicole Kassell, Stephen Kay, Clare Kilner, Brian Levant, Francis Lawrence, John Maybury, Klaus Menzel, Russell Mulcahy, Hideo Nakata, Frank Nissen, Matthew Parkhill, John Pasquin, John Polson, Jean-François Richet, Angela Robinson, Geoffrey Sax, Adam Shankman, Florent Siri, Kevin Rodney Sullivan, Andy Tennant, and Chris Wedge. That's only thirty-five, but then again, this is only the end of March.
No one but the rarest breed of film buff (someone, I would imagine, a bit like me at age twenty) will be able by the end of the year, or possibly even now, to pick out from that list the correct director of, say, Alone in the Dark or Assault on Precinct 13 or Boogeyman or Constantine or Elektra or The Jacket or White Noise, let alone identify any other work of that director, let alone identify a directorial personality in it. The one name on the list which I personally am disposed to add to my mental Rolodex is that of Terry George, for Hotel Rwanda, another late arrival from last year. Which means nothing more than that he would qualify for the next list of directors of promise who failed to deliver. And it is not as if, for the sake of rhetoric, I have ruthlessly suppressed bigger names who might have lent a little cachet to the unreeling year.
I left Paul Weitz off the list because I can actually recall, without recourse to the Internet Movie Database, his entire directorial output, stretching back no farther than 1999, though it's only the latest of his four credits -- In Good Company -- that elevates him to a director of promise. I left off Michael Radford as well -- The Merchant of Venice -- because his The Postman, not Kevin Costner's The Postman, but Il Postino, overpraised though it was, is still pretty well remembered. Danny Boyle -- Millions -- amounts, in the foregoing company, almost to an established, entrenched eminento, with five features released in the U.S., now six, in eleven years, even if it was the very first of them, Shallow Grave, that showed the most promise. Wayne Wang -- Because of Winn-Dixie -- has made, in his erratic if not schizophrenic career, a better film than Danny Boyle, The Joy-Luck Club, but only that one, in ten more years of trying. And Wes Craven -- Cursed -- goes back yet another ten years, as far back as Clint Eastwood, but without one really worthwhile film in all that time. The three months in the rearview mirror constitute an answer, of sorts, to the question of whatever became of the auteur theory. Bluntly, the feeding tube got disconnected.
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Just under a year ago I was writing about the newest Alain Resnais film, Not on the Lips, after trekking to L.A. to see it in the City of Lights/City of Angels festival of recent French cinema. Now the film has come out on DVD without ever having had a theatrical release in America, even in the cultural meccas. I hardly know whether to praise the DVD medium for opening that avenue or to blame it for building such a beckoning bypass. DVDs obviously have increased the traffic flow of cinematic obscurities and oddities, but how many of these, scrimping on marketing costs, have been siphoned off from the standard theatrical route? (And that's to say nothing of the countless classics, or anyway oldies, that have, in effect, been permanently siphoned off from erstwhile repertory houses.) Given the poor commercial prospects of the Resnais film, I would concede that in this case praise must outweigh blame. Americans were not going to see it any other way. What a shame, though. And I do mean shame.