The Ten Most Influential Directors
by NIR SHALEV
1) Sergei M. Eisenstein
Orson Welles once said that a film is completed in the editing suite. By that he didn’t mean editing is the final step in the filmmaking process, but rather that editing is the most important aspect and that a film is made and completed in its entirety in the editing suite. And when it comes to film editing, no one did it better, or had perfected it earlier than Eisenstein. He set the standard for editing techniques that are still being utilized today. Christopher Nolan wouldn’t have expository dialogue punctuated by montage-style editing if it wasn’t for Eisenstein’s revered Odessa Steps sequence from his early masterpiece Battleship Potemkin (1925). And we wouldn’t have Tarantino’s violent (although he never actually shows the violence) Pulp Fiction (1994), either. Then came Strike (1925), October (1928), Alexander Nevsky (1938), Ivan the Terrible Parts 1 and 2 (1944, 1958), etc., etc….
2) Buster Keaton
I hate to bring Orson Welles into it again but Buster was his favorite director and a terrific inspiration. Jackie Chan has also stated that Buster Keaton is his idol. Not only was he the best stuntman Hollywood’s ever seen, but he was also a terrific actor and had an masterful eye for shot compositions. Watch any sequence from his masterpiece The General (1926) and you’ll see what I mean. Buster was the stuntman who’s thrown himself into the spotlight and made it work. He was a writer, actor, stuntman, and director whose films told simple tales filled with terrific bouts of understandable and outstanding verbal and physical humor. He was and still remains an inspiration to us all.
3) Orson Welles
Arguably the greatest filmmaker of all time, Welles is responsible for the greatest film of all time (Citizen Kane), and his unique ways of looking outside the box helped him develop an early mastery of shot compositions, editing techniques (also borrowing from Eisenstein), unique atmospheric lighting techniques, special effects and composited effects, and structuring non-linear story structures. He got the best out of the actors he worked with. He was an accomplished and outstanding film and stage actor, boasting remarkable diction and a large vocabulary, and had an amazing eye for detail. He made what was referred to as “a complete mess” in its own day into what we call “the greatest film of all time” today. Citizen Kane has become the textbook on filmmaking and that makes Welles’ gamble with avant garde filmmaking techniques a large reason he’s one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.
4) Howard Hawks
Another example of masterful film editing is Hawks’ masterpiece Rio Bravo (1959), in which the editing (always cutting on an action or movement) is seamless. Seamlessness was very important because Rio Bravo is a 141 minute feature that takes place mostly in two locations and is equal parts a “bottle film” and a “talking heads” film (again, a huge inspiration to Tarantino). Hawks also directed another early masterpiece called Scarface (1932) that set the standard for gangster films. The Big Sleep (1946) is one of the greatest, most quintessential film noir/detective films and His Girl Friday ((1940)- what Tarantino believes to be the greatest comedy of all time- is a great example of masterful, fast-paced acting and one-liner joke telling. Hawks has a good chunk of masterpieces under his belt and with time they’ve become quintessential in their genres.
5) Akira Kurosawa
I find that Kurosawa is the greatest film director of all time and he’s also, definitely terrifically influential. Without The Hidden Fortress (1958) we wouldn’t have C3PO and R2D2. Without Seven Samurai (1954) we wouldn’t have every action film ever made afterwards and ongoing. Having studied painting and art prior to filmmaking, Kurosawa brought gorgeous cinematography to all of his films but also utilized camera movements that complemented and demonstrated masterfully location and the movement of characters in a linear space and time. Everything we see in films today is derived, in one way or another, from Akira Kurosawa’s film techniques and stories. He’ll always be a great example of a rare breed of filmmaker.
6) Jean Renoir
I love Jean Renoir’s films and all of the best filmmakers have studied his films in one way or another. Orson Welles’ use of deep focus compositions in Citizen Kane and several other of his masterpieces were inspired by Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939); Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2001) is a somewhat remake of it. Grand Illusion (1937) is one of the greatest studies of the human condition on celluloid and is also one of the greatest P.O.W. films. Jean Renoir was the son of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (yes, the painter) and as a result studied art and painting at an early age. His films will forever be remembered positively for strong visuals and themes and they can and should be studied in a serious manner. Watch how many of his films have starred Jean Gabin and how excellent Gabin was in each and every one of them. That’s also the sign of a great and proficient director.
7) Michael Powell
The ferocious two-headed beast named Powell and [Emeric] Pressburger delivered one masterpiece after another for a long period of time in their careers. All of those films are gorgeous to look at and boast remarkable screenplays. Just to name a few from the canon: The Thief of Bagdad (1940), 49th Parallel (1941), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948). All of Powell’s masterpieces have inspired today’s filmmakers in one way or another, and that most especially includes Martin Scorsese, who has spent years restoring Powell’s great films. One viewing of Black Narcissus would make anyone want to watch all of Powell and Pressburger’s films in a heartbeat.
8) Ingmar Bergman
Yeah, that guy. Bergman is the man that brought us one of the most profound, intelligently philosophical, and mesmerizing films of all time, The Seventh Seal (1957), and who also helped redefine non-linear story structures. Most of his films are considered to be classics and they all look gorgeous to boot. Bergman is Woody Allen’s greatest inspiration and our most “artistic” contemporary films had originally stemmed from Bergman’s psyche (trust me). His visual style resides in most of today’s film styles and that includes the cinema of Lars von Trier and Gaspar Noé.
9) F.W. Murnau
He gave us Nosferatu (1922), arguably the greatest horror film of all time and one that’s still utterly creepy today; The Last Laugh (1924), a film that stars the great Emil Jannings and masterfully tells an entire story without utilizing a single intertitle; and what I believe to be the second-greatest film of all time, Sunrise: a Song of Two Humans (1927). Murnau was definitely always thinking outside the box and end-products like Sunrise and Faust cannot be replicated. It’s simply, physically not possible. His films were always concerned with story and visual magnificence equally and that’s a quality that’s still terrifically rare to find. He’ll always be a great inspiration to us all because of his great ability to concoct new ways of tell old stories.
10) Fritz Lang
Lang mastered epic filmmaking early in his career (Die Spinnen parts 1 and 2, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, Die Nibelungen, Metropolis, and Spione), showcased magnificent optical special effects and grand sets and set designs, and then, in the talkie era, delivered the greatest German film of all time: M (1931). Then he moved to America and made one awesome film noir, gangster, and hard-boiled drama after another, starring Hollywood’s best actors. What else can one ask for? He’d terrific utilized German Expressionism early in his career and then moved on to more hard core films, utilizing more traditional but expert cinematographic film techniques. Without Metropolis we wouldn’t have Blade Runner (1982), Dark City (1998), The Matrix (1999), the anime Metropolis (2001), or Inception (2010).
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