5. Rob Zombie
Heavy metal musician Rob Zombie sought another means with which to express his life-long admiration revolving around 1970s trash/exploitation indulgence cinema. To the groans of some, this would be through contributions to cinema itself. Few are massively defending the filmography of Zombie, so much as standing by certain elements of his work, including individual films, as infrequent manifestations of quality.
For 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses, he inflicted upon viewers a celebration of his sick nostalgia. Elements of its production inspire admiration, but overall the picture was a frank, forgettable mess. This was a view point shared by numerous, among these Frank Scheck’s conclusion: “lives up to the spirit but not the quality of its inspirations”.
He gained a number of followers in the aftermath of 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects, a picture boosted by a powerfully acted trio of utter madman sadists (Bill Mosley, Sid Haig and Sherri Moon Zombie), a complex moral ambiguity, notable originality, and genuine technical competency.
Ebert was won over, pining, “There is actually some good writing and acting going on here, if you can step back from the [violent] material enough to see it”, and Peter Travers boldly announced the film’s achievement in managing to “wed The Wild Bunch [and] Thelma and Louise”. Not all were won over, penning commentary that has remained wholly repeated consistently during discussion of Zombie’s directorial career.
Dana Stevens decrees, “It looks sensational, but there is a curious emptiness at its core”, while Robert K. Elder attacks his esoteric style more directly: “soaking in bloody classics such as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I Spit on Your Grave, Zombie didn’t absorb any of the underlying social tension or heart in those films.”
The overuse of obnoxious up-front imagery and fast-paced brutality that has defined Zombie’s directorial resume has seen itself as the main target amongst his detractors. Particularly when it was put to use re-envisioning John Carpenter’s landmark 1978 classic Halloween. The original’s iconic, incredibly effective silent, under-the-rug, madness transpired to promote artistic endeavours entirely dedicated to the art of warping terror.
Zombie’s opted for passion, anger, rage, and squeamish exploitation, although one that was at least admirable on forming a unique identity. The remake’s sequel dragged this fatalistic excess to an extreme existence; perhaps the most foul and unapologetic mainstream horror film of the 21st century.
6. Bernardo Bertolucci
Just for the sake of those pedantically concerned, for the purpose of this entry, I have deemed the exploitation and focus upon specific provocative content within a film as justification enough for it to potentially serve as a potential ‘style over substance’ fare.
He may have won a Best Director Oscar, the only individual on this list to boast this (superficial?) honour. But when one summarises Bertolucci’s career highlights to exist as products of predominantly anti-fascist Marxist naiveties, it isn’t wholly a baseless accusation, so much an exaggerated truth.
Bertolucci’s status as a political filmmaker has spurned many a heated, varied discussion (it was for perhaps his most critically accessible, and arguably safe, work he received the most western attention, with 1988’s The Last Emperor), but his actual inclusion as a purported proponent of the style over substance bracket emerges mostly with one infamous 1972 title.
Last Tango in Paris represents the epitome of a controversial title. Rather than an immediate, and inherent, exercise into heart-stopping and spew-stirring disgust, as another controversial icon like Salo or Caligula might have, Last Tango in Paris placed its base within the French romance archetype, and delved into ambiguous, uncomfortable and untouched depths oft-explored in the cinema prior, or at least on such a recognised, and hotly lauded and oppositely renounced, manner.
Therefore, not only are audiences and critics being confronted with upfront, graphic and unpleasant happenings, but they are duly associated with that which it is deemed unsuitable and unheard of (at the movies).
“Pornography disguised as art”, cried famous American social commentator William F. Buckley, whilst the New York chapter of the National Organisation for Women saw it as a “tool of male domination” (one ponders what might make of Sucker Punch). Mary Whitehouse was outraged to the extent wherein she deemed its ‘X’ rating in the UK to de unsuitable in favour of an outright ban, which Labour MP Maurice Edelman similarly denounced, deeming it to be a “license to degrade”.
And yet, this same film, which outraged the proposed crusaders of a pure, perfect society (adorable, aren’t they?), questioned Robert Altman himself, who purportedly queried, “How dare I make another film?” Clearly, though, many had deemed it of artistic merit so as to create a divided consensus rather than one ignorantly unanimous. Vincent Canby deemed it as a natural artistic by-product of “the era of Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer”, and even the Academy bestowed Bertolucci a Best Director nomination at 1973’s ceremony.
There would be few films to inspire so distinct an opinion from all those who view it, and a resultantly few directors, but Last Tango in Paris is surely one of those, and Bertolucci alongside it. Everyone has the potential to react wildly different toward this work. How so? Experience it for yourself.
7. Tim Burton
Naturally, since the world’s film critics and the world’s western high school art students are separate entities, critical dissection of Tim Burton has been allowed to exist.
In this case, some have accused Burton; actually most who comment professionally on his work probably have at this stage, on relying upon cliché, familiarity, and repetitiveness in his contemporary filmography. Considering we’re discussing a man whom made his artistic career upon the unfamiliar, and his locating of beauty within the uncharacteristic, enforcing sentiment and emotional mutuality within his magical losers: becoming stale is therefore fundamentally flawed when one is entirely for celebrating the unconventional.
It wasn’t always this way, of course. Burton’s first forays into cinema have received widespread praise and consistent fanatical loyalty.
Beetlejuice received a warm reception upon its release in 1988, Pauline Kael acclaiming it as a “comedy classic” while Vincent Canby noted it as a “farce for our time”. Others did not feel an innovative and vivid an imagination as Tim’s could posit itself as quality comedic material. Janet Maslin, for instance, believed it “tries anything and everything for effect”, deriding its blatant, up-front surreal excess. Back then; Tim’s style was fresh, charming and authentically sincere to those who found relation with the material (except for, maybe, certain Batman fans).
By the time it had become a staple to cast a kooky (permanently represented through Johnny Depp for a majority portion of his career) whilst running on a line between sweetly flavoured grime and outcast-worship, he had most notably succeeded in the causation of groans and patronising smirks from the public and academic audiences alike.
8. Guy Ritchie
Speaking of helming a distinct kinetic cinematic style and running it into the ground, Guy Ritchie and his relationship with the critics is tailor-made for this list.
Beginning his feature film career with 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie astounded audiences and critics alike with a fast-paced, superbly edited, quick-witted and narratively intricate farce of, what Mark Kermode (a constant critic of his) slightly derided as “guns and geezers”, when reviewing RockNRolla ten years later (and we’ll get to this).
General opinion toward it remains quite positive; although in light of Ritchie’s later career (and perhaps extensive celebrity gossip involving the Queen of Pop, though that element of his life shall be disregarded for this here entry) people have attempted to pick at his initial outings as similarly gimmicky and obnoxious.
2000’s Snatch is, depending on one’s mindset, an American-ized rehash of the stylistic fervour that defined Lock, Stock (even reusing some of the same prominent cast members), or a superior, more professional, improvement upon the director’s prior effort, engaging in more characters, plots, frank troublesome murders, and dags (what? *). Ebert mostly dismissed it as a “new arrangement of the same song”, while Elvis Mitchell determined “Ritchie seems to be stepping backward when he should be moving ahead”. One ponders how Mitchell painfully perceived Ritchie’s later career.
Reviews for Ritchie’s fourth film (third in the “guns and geezers” style, and yes, we won’t delve into Swept Away) took an absolute nosedive into complete panning. So therefore, anyone’s guess as to how much Kermode despised it.
“It’s not that Revolver is just bad – it’s that it’s so mind-buggeringly, intestine-stranglingly hideous that you actually start to worry about the mental state of its creator.”
Unlike Revolver, 2008’s RockNRolla wasn’t a box office travesty, making a modest return (and hitting #1 in the UK for its first week), but still was middled with critical indifference (but a step up from his prior outing’s outright lambasting). Some even liked it (it won the Empire Award for Best British Film, for whatever that’s worth, questionably in the same year of Man on Wire, Hunger and Slumdog Millionaire), but the same complaints constantly beset upon Guy had reared themselves in turn with his attempt to redeem the reputation of “guns and geezers” and his career alike (to a degree, they are one in the same).
“Part of the problem is that the plot is just too cluttered. There are far too many characters and sub-plots jostling for attention”, David Stratton opined, “Guy Ritchie only partially realizes the sizzling potential”, spoke Travers, and Kermode opted for a comparison between Little Britain and The Long Good Friday.