I’ve riffed before about directors whose names sound right, and those that don’t.
Sidney Lumet, Ridley Scott, Jacques Tourneur, Howard Hawks, David Lean, Spike Lee, Samuel Fuller, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, George Roy Hill, Akira Kurosawa, John Huston, Ingmar Bergman…these are names that suggest character, chutzpah, cultivation, grand visual schemes and a certain force of personality.
But other names lack that special schwing, that association with arthouse refinement and elegant educations and verve and riding to hounds, and I’m sorry but Ari Aster and Robert Eggers, easily two of the finest younger directors working today, are among them.
Robert Eggers sounds like the last name of a construction foreman or a rugged craftsman of some kind, maybe a middle-range divorce attorney or a carpenter from White Plains or a landscape architect who wears courduroy sport jackets, or maybe a builder of early American furniture.
Ari Aster sounds like a Jewish tailor with a storefront in Brooklyn…maybe a sharp jewelry salesman or a dressmaker or a mob attorney or a bookmaker. He just doesn’t sound like a guy who hangs with the rich and famous and owns bitcoin and has a blonde girlfriend with rich parents.
Two and two-thirds years ago I complained about the 1930s and ’40s “house” director Clarence Brown. Victor Fleming, Michael Curtiz, Rouben Mamoulian, Mervyn LeRoy and even John Ford sounded like guys who played golf in the best country clubs. Clarence Brown sounds like an uncle of Alfalfa or Spanky in The Little Rascals series. Or the name of a wheat farmer, auto mechanic or grocery store owner.
In this sense Brown is a kindred spirit of Chad Stahelski, director of the three John Wick movies. Stahelski is the last name of an electrician, a surfer, a pool-maintenance guy, a hot-dog chef at Pinks, a garbage man (excuse me, a sanitation engineer) or a guy whose grandfather worked in the same New Orleans factory as Stanley Kowalski.
“Saul Dibb could be an architect, a restaurant owner, a tailor, a stockbroker, the owner of a roofing company, a garment-district clothier, a cab driver or even a stage director, but something doesn’t feel quite right about a guy with that name delivering an upscale period piece aimed at the ladies. It seems to somehow diminish that sexy, elegant 18th Century vibe that films of this sort are supposed to deliver.
“No comment on the film itself, mind — I’m just saying that ‘Dibb’ rhymes with ‘bib,’ ‘fib” and ‘squib.’ I wouldn’t want to see a Barry Lyndon-era romance directed by Maury Schlotnik, Sidney Schwartz, Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl either.”