In creating a list of the film directors who have most inspired and influenced me, I realized a theme running through all of their works: These are directors who use dream imagery in their films; they flawlessly combine reality with non-reality; and make the inner world of a human being just as real as the outer world. They are all visual masters, giving us images and characters we have rarely, if ever, seen before. I thought about why that was so important to me, and realized that I experience even ‘ordinary’ life as exquisitely strange and unbelievable, and these directors are able to translate the unreality of real life in the most beautiful and artistic way possible. And I love that.
There is a term used in cinema called the ‘auteur theory,’ which states that although filmmaking is a collaborative art, the director is the primary ‘author’ or voice of a movie. Their personal life and unique sensibility are intricately woven into the fabric of their films. Everything we see is through their eyes, and they are responsible for all aspects of the film — not just how the actors speak their lines, but also the sets, costumes, makeup, lighting, props, shot composition, everything that is seen on-screen (also known as the ‘mise en scene’). It is the director’s vision and control that determines whether the film is a masterpiece or simply half-baked. It is a debatable theory, but if you agree with that premise, these directors definitely fit into the mold of the ‘auteur.’ Each one has a personal stamp that runs through all of their films. Their work was (and often still is) groundbreaking, and changed the course of how films are made today.
So, in no particular order:
|1) FEDERICO FELLINI (1920-1993)Federico Fellini is the film director most near and dear to my heart. I saw his short film, Toby Dammit on public television when I was eight years old, and my life changed. Fellini was such a unique and innovative director, that a new adjective was actually created in his name: ‘Felliniesque.’ The word refers to a filmic style that is ripe with dream imagery, artifice, childhood flashbacks, obsessions, Surrealism, overindulgence, dialogue that is purposefully out of sync, voluptuous women and exaggerated characters, a motif of desire, circuses, and always a blurring between fantasy and reality. He constantly messed with the rules of storytelling. He pushed the boundaries of what a film is supposed to be or look like, to spectacular effect. He also is the one who contributed the term ‘paparazzi’ to the world. How could I not love this man?|
|2) LUIS BUÑUEL (1900–1983)
This Spanish director is considered the father of Surrealist cinema. His early friendship with Salvador Dalí resulted in a brilliant collaboration that allowed Buñuel to make his first film, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) in 1929, which stuns me no matter how many times I see it. His films were uncompromising, absurdist, often included satirical social commentary (often scathing), and he created extraordinarily unique images. With Buñuel, you have to expect the unexpected.
|3) STANLEY KUBRICK (1928–1999)
Stanley Kubrick was yet another master of imagery. Everything he did was grand and gigantic, and executed with such exquisite technical perfection and symmetry. He was never locked into one genre; Kubrick worked in sci-fi, horror, war, literary adaptation, and human relationships, and he could do them all with equal precision and artistry. Even though his films were often described as slow and methodical, with scripts that were often non-linear, they continued to be huge financial successes, and were hits with both art-house and mainstream audiences.
|4) WERNER HERZOG (1942 – )I had the absolute joy and honor to spend several evenings with the German director, Werner Herzog in the mid-‘90s when he was screening his films in Seattle. In many of our conversations, Herzog expressed a great concern he had: That audiences were being fed mundane and repetitive imagery of the highest order, and on such a consistent basis via television, video games, music videos, etc, that he feared people would actually lose their own ability to imagine. Imagination itself would become a lost skill, much like a muscle that atrophies from lack of use. In this case, it would be because of an excess of creative passivity and a dearth of original images. So Herzog made it his personal mission to create imagery that no one had ever witnessed before — or in some cases, even conceived of in their wildest dreams. And that is exactly what he has done his whole career, and done magnificently.|
|5) KENNETH ANGER (1927- )
Kenneth Anger’s short films (he never made a feature) are pure, uncompromisingly original, Art. Dreamy, erotic, spectacle, outrageous, and stunningly beautiful. Plot is not what moves Anger’s films forward. They are feasts for the senses; experimental films that are more aptly described as hallucinogenic experiences.
|6) INGMAR BERGMAN (1918-2007)Elegant, introspective, autobiographical, intellectual and yet filled with raw emotion, a human being’s internal world made external… That is what you get with an Ingmar Bergman film. This Swedish director began as a playwright, and translated the pace, staging and clarity of theater to moviemaking. No special effects are used nor are they missed in the least: Bergman, along with his longtime collaborator, cinematographer Sven Nykvist, used lighting and camera angles to brilliantly express the unspoken secrets of the characters. Bergman directed the actors with such beautiful intensity, it is no wonder he is one of the most respected directors in cinema history.|
|7) DAVID LYNCH (1946- )
I can’t think of any other director who has so perfectly shined the light of consciousness into the grim, dark basement of the unconscious Shadow as David Lynch. His forte is the juxtaposition of light and dark, with many of his films beginning with sickly sweet ‘nice-ness’ and wonderfully quirky humor, and slowly plunging into fierce and horrific darkness. Dreams (and nightmares) merge with reality in ways that are at times hilarious, and at other times deeply disturbing… Never does just one mood run through a Lynch film.
Many more directors are on my ‘favorites’ list, but I had to narrow it down to the ones who influenced my own filmmaking style the most. Gratitude to them all for their personal and artistic contributions!
Barbara Ireland is a Seattle-based musician and award-winning filmmaker who is releasing a DVD collection of her short, experimental films and music videos on June 1, 2011, titled, From Dreams To Delirium.
For more information, please visit: www.BarbaraIreland.com