The following piece, originally posted on 2.2.06, is worth a re-read: “Too much love and success can be kind of a bad thing for movie directors. It can lead to recklessness and ruin. Well, not necessarily, but there’s always the threat of this.
“Look at the hopelessly over-worshipped Peter Jackson, whose Lord of the Rings trilogy (Oscars, millions, obsequious studio execs) led to the mad-royalty decision to transform King Kong into a three-hour film with a sluggish, borderline deadly 70-minute opening.
“Quentin Tarantino was psychologically done in, I feel, by the huge success of Pulp Fiction in ’94-’95. He stopped hustling, became a party animal, succumbed to some manner of intimidation over the expectations everyone had for his next film, all of which led to the respectable but underwhelming Jackie Brown in ’97.
“Michael Cimino surely went mad after the huge success of The Deer Hunter in 1978-79, and from this the gross indulgence that was Heaven’s Gate, his very next film, almost certainly arose.
“At a certain point in their careers — generally right after an enormous popular success — most great movie directors go mad on the potentialities of movies,” Pauline Kael observed in a review of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 when it opened in the States in 1977.
“They leap over their previous work into a dimension beyond the well-crafted dramatic narrative; they make a huge, visionary epic in which they attempt to alter the perceptions of people around the world.”
“Today’s directors can’t afford to be as indulgent as was once allowed in the auteurist playground of the ’70s, and so there’s a lot less flamboyance in the wake of big commercial successes and Oscar crownings.
“But phenomenal success is still a kind of crippler, I think. It seems to nudge grounded or moderate directors in the direction of fanciful whimsy or big leaps, and if they’re half-mad to begin with they seem to lose it a bit more if they become convinced the world adores them absolutely.
“The lesson seems to be that directors can be easily spoiled, like children of a certain age. Keep them on edge, wondering if they’re any good or not, and they’re fine. But beware the pitfalls of love, money, awards, long vacations and relentless kowtowings.
“The adulation showered upon Steven Spielberg after Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind almost certainly led to the madhouse atmosphere of 1941 (which some oddball critics, I realize, feel is a work of genius-level choreography).
“Orson Welles had a rough time with certain industry heavyweights as a result of making Citizen Kane, only one Oscar award came of it (Best Original Screenplay, which Welles shared with Herman Mankiewicz) and it didn’t make that much money. But he seemed to come away from that film with an arrogant, off-balance attitude that led to his leaving The Magnificent Ambersons to be edited by RKO editors while he went to South America to shoot a documentary.
“Billy Wilder never acted like an indulgent type, but something began to go slightly off in his work after the huge popular successes of Some Like It Hot in 1959 and The Apartment (which also won some Oscars, including Best Picture) in ’60-’61. He wasn’t ‘over’ until Buddy Buddy in ’82, but something about his being a Man of Great Esteem and Accomplishment at the end of the Eisenhower administration didn’t agree with him.
“Kael mentioned the madnesses of D.W. Griffith in the wake of Intolerance (1916) and Abel Gance after Napoleon, (1927), and she could have just as easily mentioned the notoriously egoistic behavior of director Eric von Stroheim in the mid 1920s, which led to the excesses of Queen Kelly and his wings being clipped soon after.”
Which directors have succumbed to recklessness (or given a good imitation of same) over the last five years or so? Who seems vulnerable to this syndrome right now?