During the 90s, with the massification of the so-called post-modern cinema, filmmakers made constant references to their cinematic idols in their own films; suddenly you could see everything from simple homages to blatant copies of style and scene in almost all of the films created by certain directors. Some of these modern day directors went on to have very good careers, while others were just named in passing as part of some random Generation X film review, but the idea of being generous and grateful enough to say (or rather, show) audiences the classic directors one was inspired by, without embarrassment, has survived to this day.
With that in mind, we found some great modern-day filmmakers than clearly took a lot from past or even contemporary masters, and since most of them haven’t spoken much about the subject of doing so, it would be interesting to compare some of their artistic ties.
1. Max Ophuls – Stanley Kubrick
Ophuls: An extremely precise (to the point of being mathematic) artist who controlled everything in the frame, and who served as a bridge between the classic 40s-50s world studio cinema and the 60s new wave, with his elaborate but fluid style.
Kubrick: Does he really need an introduction?
Kubrick is the oldest “modern-day” filmmaker on this list, and given his reputation, it’s almost a surprise that someone with such a great defining and endurable filmography, could have a need for any film idols of his own. Due to his secretive nature, it was almost impossible to figure out if there was someone out there great enough for the job of being Kubrick’s idol, but after seeing just a few minutes of Lola Montes, we not only discover that Ophuls was in fact the relevant idol, but we also discover why: the extremely carefully planned dolly shots, the very specific tone of the lighting, the self-consciousness and responsibility of making a masterpiece, all are characteristics and qualities that years later Kubrick would borrow from to build his own film persona.
2. Carl Theodor Dreyer – Carlos Reygadas
Dreyer: Common themes in his films often centered on mystical doubts and fear for God´s punishment because we are just human and we cannot be separate of sin.
Reygadas: Also deals with spiritualistic doubts, but his characters fear something else as well – the common (mis)interpretation of God´s anger that most people have.
It was clear then that Silent Light was a very direct homage to Ordet, complete with a resurrection scene included. Reygadas doesn’t exhibit fear in touching the “glory of God” with his reinterpretation of Dreyer´s tales of faith, guilt and forgiveness. Perhaps cinematography is the area in which the filmmakers diverge the most; Dreyer creates more clear-cut, rigid, and strong looking images, while Reygadas prefers the landscape, the sky, and arguably a less controlled environment – perhaps with a hint of expecting something added, such as an unplanned situation or event, indicating the presence of God in nature.
3. Jean Vigo – Francois Truffaut
Vigo: Doomed from a young age with bad health, a cinematic poet, and a personal and (occasionally) autobiographical dreamer who, in agony and despair, shot a handful of challenging films that took much time to garner any serious attention. However, because of their vitality and artistic fidelity, Vigo’s works are important parts of film history today.
Truffaut: Sometimes kind, sometimes angry, but always a passionate cinephile and storyteller, Truffaut’s films illustrate the entire journey, from the La Nouvelle Vague to almost modern-day Hollywood. With sweeping themes ranging from childhood and education to divorce and death, he truly lived his life through films.
Vigo’s Zéro de conduite and Truffaut’s 400 blows seem like father and son films. It’s clear that the profound and humanistic way in which Vigo saw everyday life touched Francois quite deeply, and one could speculate that this treatment was one of the main reasons of a change in tone between Truffaut as a critic, and Truffaut as a filmmaker. However, one can begin to notice the differences between the filmmakers when analyzing their entire careers.
Vigo was more pure, anarchistic, and free, which is why he’s still referred to as the “Rimbaud of cinema” today. Meanwhile, Truffaut, even as an “enfant terrible” was more disciplined (Hitchcock taught him that) and quite sad and realistic (Rossellini taught him that). Also, despite the fact that Vigo was in bad health most of his life, and very close to death at a young age, he still maintained a genuinely romantic vision of existence, which post-WWII and subsequent generations, including that of Truffaut’s, could never quite reach.
4. Alan Clarke – Gus Van Sant
Clarke: Political realism with a groundbreaking method to use the steadycam, Clarke films breathed the air of the working class world, fought, and died with them.
Van Sant: Initially wanting to be a painter, Van Sant changed his mind to give film a chance, after seeing the films of Bela Tarr and, of course, Alan Clarke. Van Sant, who is probably the best “filmtaker” of the last decade, adds pristine poetry and melancholic teen-aged reality to his stylistic references, which all converge perfectly.
Clarke mastered and used his camera movements out of necessity, an ethical and intellectual tool, used for criticizing the wrongdoings in the society and times he lived in. It’s only when Van Sant turns to this approach with his own content and filmmaking, that he can use Clarke’s ideas and add to them in a finer way; Van Sant’s Elephant is proof of the two styles converging.
5. Robert Bresson – Paul Schrader
Bresson: Loneliness, introspection, and existentialistic questions about the place of the human being in a world full of indifference. How we could survive? How we could think and express emotions? All common questions explored in his films.
Schrader: Very close to the master, but with a more severe critique on American society and the American way of dealing with issues. Schrader is more political and concrete in his search for the causes of the decaying of Western society.
Bresson set the tone, putted the rules, and almost invented the game. Operating on the assumption that the cinema was about great ideas, and nothing was more important than that, Bresson used no more than what was strictly necessary to recreate those great ideas into images – period. Schrader understood this method, and used it for almost all of his work, as a director, writer, and ist, which interestingly enough, goes to show how a film’s influence can go beyond the cinema, and into other areas of artistic creativity.
6. Ken Loach – Steve McQueen
Loach: A left-wing realist, convinced that film must confront upper-class power by showing audiences how common people suffer from it, while simultaneously trying to live with it and survive it with dignity and solidarity amongst themselves.
McQueen: Mostly in Hunger, there is quite a center-left wing naturalistic director, also who wants confrontation with power, but with a more histrionic resolution and stronger endings for marginal characters.
Obviously, Loach has influenced a good number of English filmmakers since the 70s to present day, and while McQueen is not one of his most declared admirers, his meteoric career has included uses of some of Loach’s important film tools, with a proven intelligence in molding these references to the master, and turning them into more extreme stories and characters, with a more pessimistic attitude towards politics and the future of modern society. Given this attitude, for better or for worse, McQueen is the new millennium’s filmmaker.
7. Sam Peckinpah – Michael Mann
Peckinpah: If we’re ever talking about shocking directors, good ol’ Sam is one of the names that regularly appears on any Top 10 list about the subject. His bloody action, potent editing style, dark and out of time characters made him a well-deserved living legend during his time.
Mann: He’s an ambitious and now matured filmmaker, and perhaps the most stylish and personal mainstream director of his generation (along with Ridley Scott) who is still trying to get back to his well-deserved space in Hollywood.
Mann makes westerns in cities – complete with guns, blood, agonized and/or dying people, gangsters, losers, etc. – just like Peckinpah. However, his approach and style are completely different (European film school as opposed to an MTV-esque television series), and he has a new perspective and opinion about the characters and stories he turns into images, in order to directly show audiences some of these bloody battles, surrounded by sophisticated and respectable places. High tech buildings are blasted by bullets, and “villains” are more honest than the “heroes” – it’s a Peckinpized America in which anything could happen just like in the Wild Best, only in an urban setting.