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David Poland

By David Poland

Auteurs Gone Wild

These seven films – with the kinda-exception of one that was made by one studio’s division and released by another – are studio movies, not independent films. And all seven filmmakers are highly creative, highly respected, and responsible for movies that their studios will consider fiscal failures that will be leveraged by some to avoid making similarly challenging films in the future.
In other words, they got the shot… and now, others will have to wait a while before the opportunity comes up again.

The rest…

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31 Responses to “Auteurs Gone Wild”

  1. danmo says:

    I understand the reluctant feelings in writing this column (never fun to criticize artistic ambition), but this hesitation prevents you from really discussing the films at all or what in particular is wrong with these films? Are you planning more in-depth reviews?
    I caugh Children of Men this past Monday and was left stunned. I think the movie is dense and leaves the viewer with a lot of work in regards to its particular version of the future. We are never sure what the Human Project is and details are fuzzy how extactly the world became so screwed–but “lacking in basic human emotion”? If anything, it’s one of the most humanistic and emotional undestanding versions of dystopia put on screen. **Spoiler Alert** What do you call Theo’s reaction in the woods after Julian’s death? Or the quieting of the army as Theo and Kee walk with child, only to have violence return almost instantaneously? Cuaron forsakes some of the scifi/dystopia genre conventions, but only in place of theme and character.

  2. Alan Cerny says:

    We should celebrate films with ambition.
    I am happy I saw THE FOUNTAIN. I thought it was an amazing work. I haven’t seen CHILDREN OF MEN yet, but I know how your tastes differ from mine, pretty much to the point that I could write a mathematical equation to it, and I can’t wait to see it.
    But continue examining box office numbers like a witch doctor examining chicken entrails. Eventually you’ll come to the conclusion that that bird is dead.

  3. eugenen says:

    “Children of Men” is stunning, and Cuaron is one of the most preternaturally talented filmmakers working. Can’t really sign on to the lack-of-human-logic criticism, as the movie chewed me up and spit me out, emotionally.
    It and “Brick” are competing for best movie of the year…

  4. ASD says:

    I understand you’re writing under the umbrella of “Indie auteurs” but is there a better example of “highly creative, highly respected, and responsible for movies that their studios will consider fiscal failures that will be leveraged by some to avoid making similarly challenging films in the future…” than Michael Mann and Miami Vice? A hugely respected filmmaker with a checkered box office history and a studio in Universal that was unable to say no that made back less than 1/2 of its reported 135 mullion budget (rumored at $160 million) domestically. That film and its failure will do far, far more harm to the next filmmaker who wants to do a big budget, r-rated film geared towards adults than Children of Men ever will. How come room couldn’t be made for that one in your article?
    As for Children of Men I respectfully disagree about lack of basic human emotion. It uses its high concept premise as a jumping off point for a world in complete and utter despair with nothing left to live and hope for, where the totalitarian government looks for scapegoats, having long abandoned trying to solve the problem that’s legitimately plague them (immigrants are the problem! huh, funny that) yet in following Owen’s cynical drunk (a total Bogart performance) as he has to put aside his own disillusionment for something greater than his own detachment.
    The long-steadicam shots are all part of the film’s (intentionally) limited design. If I remember correctly there are no traditional master shots in the film and very few aerials. The long takes help maintain the immediacy. It really is just one man with nothing but his wits against (seemingly) the world.

  5. William Goss says:

    Exactly what ASD said. It works best as a visceral experience with serious stakes. Some other grander point or lesson wedged in would’ve dragged it down. Besides, isn’t hope for humanity enough for one film to tackle?

  6. LexG says:

    If Soderbergh is an “auteur,” as in a true auteur, I’ll be damned if I can figure out what links his movies, beyond their obvious quality and craftsman shift, and some visual signifiers and the way he plays with time. But an auteur implies a director with recurring thematics, with interests that torment his very soul. Among acclaimed hotshot directors, Soderbergh is fascinating in that he has this indie reputation as some maestro, but thematically, subtextually, there’s nothing consistent running through his work. While the films of Lynch, Scorsese, Ferrara, Cronenberg, et al., are filled with inights into their directors’ pysches, Soderbergh bounces from intense romanticism (Solaris) to snarky irony (Schizopolis, Eros) to big-budget smugness (Ocean’s 12) to scorching character drama (sex, lies, Bubble), yet something always strikes me as surface level, like he’s a clunky-glasses hipster trying to riff in a new genre and blow everyone away with his proficiency. But there’s never a sense that it’s a story that means something personal to him: there’s always that polished coldness. Not that that isn’t fascinating, but I’d regard Soderbergh more like a solid studio journeyman like Sydney Pollack or early Rob Reiner, than I would some iconoclast who has created a cinematic “world” of his own.

  7. jeffmcm says:

    I think Soderbergh counts as an auteur but in a different, more expansive sense than the others you name; there are thematic links between movies as disparate as Sex, Lies, Bubble and Solaris, namely the difficulty of expressing true feelings of love; His respect for the filmmakers of the past pervades The Limey, the Ocean’s movies, Kafka and now Good German; and more. The thing about him is that he doesn’t have just one auteurial mode that he can work in, he has two or three or four, but all unified by the same intelligence behind the camera.
    Sorry if this sounds vague but you can definitely tell that he’s on a different level of directorial ability while watching his movies than Pollack or Reiner.

  8. bipedalist says:

    God, doesn’t he wish. LexG nailed Soderbergh. There is no shame in being able to make good, popular films. He is a really good director half of the time. The other time, it’s like he’s jerking off to see what comes out.

  9. jeffmcm says:

    I still don’t agree, because of the very fact that when Soderbergh ‘jerks off’ in Bubble or Schizopolis, it’s vastly more interesting than when Rob Reiner jerks off in North or Ghosts of Mississippi.

  10. Danny Boy says:

    I find it interesting that you talk about pulling back the budget of all these films, especially when considering the fate of The Fountain. It was originally supposed to have a larger budget with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (does that mean it was supposed to be Babel?), but when they jumped ship, Aronofsky had to rein in his budget and cut a lot from the film. I’d actually be more interested to see what he would have done had he had his original budget with his original stars than a cheaper version. Maybe it would have made more sense.

  11. msthollyung says:

    This seems like another version of the “Nightmares for the dream factory” that your home page linked to:
    This Hot Button was really good, as were the responses (except the one about the unified auteurial modes theory, but mcm gets credit for trying). P.S. 3rd paragraph from the bottom, you wrote “Children of God.”

  12. The Carpetmuncher says:

    The Fountain is pretentious garbage, I can’t believe anybody is saying anything nice about that film. The only thing a bigger budget would have done is lose more money. I guess I do agree with DP that at least Aronofsky is trying to do something great, but to watch him fall flat on his face isn’t what I call a good time. Just awful. REQUIEM was superbly overrated as well. It had more to do with style than drugs, which in the end means it had very little to say. And Ellen Burstyn’s performance was just horrible – a faint, screeching version of her brilliant work three decades ago in THE KING OF MARVIN GARDINS. There’s no doubt Aronofsky is visually talented – but his story-telling abilities are pretty weak. He might be better suited for working in advertising than in narrative film.
    Soderbergh is one of the best directors working in Hollywood today, I don’t see how you can complain about that guy, except to say Solaris sucked (like The Fountain) and that we’d all like to see him try to make the Great American Movie instead of just be a working great director. I also anxiously await the promised SON OF SCHIZOPOLIS, and the return of Nameless Number-Head Man, which should be a masterpiece. Let’s not start calling OUT OF SIGHT experimental though, I mean, that’s just a straight forward pop noir, tastefully made with particular care in directing performances (it’s the film that made J-Lo and Clooney movie stars). Great film, but hardly experimental in the vein of SCHIZOPOLIS or BUBBLE. And we shouldn’t even mention THE UNDERNEATH, which is one of the worst movies ever made, so bad that Soderberh took his name off the writing credit (and gave it to his dog, I think).
    Love most of those directors, particularly Alfonso Cauron.
    And do we get to call him Chewi now? That guy is freaking brilliant – I loved his flashy performance in FOUR BROTHERS, a turd of a film I otherwise loathed. But my man Chewi just shines…brilliant dude…

  13. jeffmcm says:

    Thanks for the points Hung, hope I can pass this semester.
    Who is Chewi?

  14. Aladdin Sane says:

    jeffmcm, I think TCM means Chewitel Ejiofor.
    As for the Aronofsky bits of the reply, I disagree with most of the points. I do think that Aronofsky is a talented storyteller, able to strip away emotional excess to reveal something intensely personal. I felt that The Fountain was almost birthed from one moment in Requiem, where Leto & Connelly are laying down together, and how they talk about being beautiful and each other’s dream…while watching The Fountain, that Requiem moment just kept on nudging my thoughts.
    Anyhow, agreed that Aronofsky has a keen visual eye. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
    As for The Hot Button…well now I’m even more intrigued by Children of Men. A rave from Wells and basically a pan from Poland means that it’s probably either going to be brilliant to me, or complete crap. Can’t wait!

  15. jeffmcm says:

    Oh yeah, Chiwetel Ejiofor is great. Sorry, I forgot he was also in Children of Men.

  16. msthollyung says:

    My hung, I’m sorry.

  17. Devin Faraci says:

    ‘Pretentious’ is usually shorthand for ‘Made me feel dumb and confused.’

  18. Goulet says:

    About Soderbergh, I feel (and I’m sure he’d agree with me) that while he is indeed a “studio journeyman”, it’s not in the realm of Pollack or Reiner but more like a Michael Curtiz/Howard Hawks/Robert Wise etc.

  19. Devin Faraci says:

    He’d certainly agree with you in so much as that every attempt has been made to link GOOD GERMAN to Curtiz.

  20. “But Children of God wants to be more than that thrill ride and it really isn’t.”
    Well, we’re just gonna have to disagree here Dave. I saw CoM a couple of months back and it’s still with me (so far only behind Jindabyne and United 93 in best of 2006 stakes). I suppose I just got more out of it than you (which was a long chase scene, essentially). Oh well.
    Hollyung, check out my blog (link below) to a piece I did about that very article. It was one of the worst pieces of “journalism” I’ve ever read.

  21. msthollyung says:

    It’s late here, a welcome relief from Anderson Cooper and The Iraq Study Group. Glenn, err Kami, bitchin out a Hollywood smack down! The casino, err studio, is in trouble, not dire, but something’s gotta give. P.S. Are you sure you’re only 20?

  22. I’m 21! Is that a good or bad thing? Cause if it’s bad, I’m really 28 with a PhD in journalism ethics.
    I need to update that profile.

  23. Re-reading that piece makes me sounds like a really foul-mouthed mini Russell Crowe. That Phillipe Mora just made me really angry. What a tool.

  24. crazycris says:

    I’m going to have to join in Dave’s naysayers when it comes to some of these films… I think many of them are artistic masterpieces, and their raves for and against tend to reflect the critics’ taste.
    I thought MaryAntoinnette (saw it in May) was a lovely film, even if all that pink drove me crazy (as a redhead I have declared war on the colour) and the clashing accents were weird. I saw it as a good romp, one v. interesting director’s vision of a historic character (but I won’t deny I’d like to see a more “serious” movie about this woman, and in French).
    Like KCamel I saw Children of Men 2 months ago and was pretty much blown away by it. The story, the performers, their emotions… totally got under my skin and haven’t left. I too think it’s a movie about hope, it’s the last thing we lose, and once it’s gone you get pretty clear (if depressing) idea of what could happen…
    As for Babel, I saw it last night, in a packed theatre (and it’s been out here for a couple of weeks), and thought it was brilliant! But how could anyone expect it to blast away the box office just because it has Brad Pitt in it? Although he does some amazing work (proving once again what a talented actor he is), the weight of the movie doesn’t fall completely on his shoulders (this isn’t a “Brad Pitt film” like the others you mention), it’s spread around: on other strong performances (not one of them is bad!), on a good story and an original way of presenting it. And let’s not forget the soundtrack (can Gustavo Santalaolla get another nom for this? I liked it better than Brokeback). Part of the problem for this movie in making it to the top of US box-office is precisely the fact that we’re asked to THINK (oh dear! imagine, the director is hoping for an intelligent audience, I don’t think that’s too much to ask for!) and the fact that some people are still put-off (rather stupidly imo) by subtitles. I counted 6 languages in the film and it’s clear you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who speaks all of them (I’ve got 3), but hey, it only helps make the whole film be more REAL! (that and the shitty paranoid behaviour of the other tourists on the bus… jerks!)
    Am still waiting for Pan’s Labyrinth (in OV, it’s out in French but no dubbing for me please!), the Illusionist, the Prestige and The Fountain; but they all sound like refreshingly intelligent and original films… so I look forward to them anxiously and hope there will be other brave filmmakers in the near future with original visions and the guts to tell stories in their own unique ways.
    Compare all these intersting films that are out this fall to next May-July where there are basically only sequels (no matter how much we’re looking forward to some of them, myself included)… and be thankful there are still people with original ideas out there making movies!!!

  25. crazycris says:

    oops! Looks like I got carried away in my enthusiasm… Sorry. Hope I was clear enough!

  26. The Prestige was uber fun. Can somebody force David Bowie to be in every movie filmed from now on, please. It’d be greatly appreciated.

  27. Kambei says:

    Yeah, I had a great time watching The Prestige, but it seems like i’m in the minority. I don’t really understand the hate. Apparently, it is too unemotional? Here in Toronto, it has been in the top 10 since it came out, and has been consistantly ahead of The Departed. Strange, but then, James Bond has been kicking the penguins’ asses up here too.

    Also, did Dave like Pan’s Labyrinth or not? I couldn’t really tell.

  28. ThriceDamned says:

    I have now seen Children of Men twice in three days. It is without a shadow of a doubt, the very best, most affecting, most poignant and brilliant film I’ve seen this year. I literally sat stunned with tears in my eyes at the end. It firmly placed Cuaron for me among the very best filmmakers working today.
    I don’t remember many films that have as successfully created a believable futuristic society on the brink of collapse as this one. All the little touches, from the way people don’t care about pollution anymore (believing they’re the last generation) to the way everybody keeps pets to make up for the lack of children. A million little touches that solidified the world for me.
    The long, uninterrupted takes totally transported me into the film, to the point where it plays more like almost a documentary than a film. On both occasions I’ve seen it, I’m just instantly sucked into it. I haven’t really had this kind of reaction to a movie since I first saw City of God.
    Last night I also saw Pan’s Labyrinth. The second best film of a somewhat lackluster year for me. I’ve been a fan of Del Toro ever since Kronos, and this one ranks as his probably second best film after The Devil’s Backbone.
    Almost all the reviews I’ve seen for this one tend to emphasize the fantasy element of it, which is stupendously well realized, with amazing set and costume design, not to mention the creatures Del Toro throws out there.
    However, the most successful part of the film in my mind is the “outer” world. The rebellion going on against the Franco regime, the brilliant portrait of Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) as the most frightening villain I’ve seen in quite a while, the rich inner life of Ofelia (the little girl) and the totally non-Hollywood way the adults deal with it. Sentences like “The world is a harsh cruel place, and you’re just going to have to learn that fact”, issued by her (benign) mother, speak to me in a way that most traditional fare doesn’t.
    It really is one of the best “fantasy” films I’ve ever seen, not that the moniker applies in more than a rudimentary way. Almost all of the “fantasy” elements can be read as taking place solely in the mind of Ofelia if you so choose. Or, you can choose to believe…

  29. bobbob911 says:

    I dont believe ‘The Fountain’ with a larger budget would have significantly changed the story. In fact, I believe it wouldnt have changed at all. I own the Graphic Novel of the film which was put out a year or so ago based on the original script, and it is essentially the same story. The extra $35 million as far as I can tell would have been spent on bigger set design for the 1500AD time period.
    For what its worth, The Fountain is my favorite film of the year. Its not pretentious garbage, it is in fact one of the finest recent examples of true science fiction on screen. That is, if you consider all three time periods to be literal which I do.
    I must admit, when I saw the trailer for ‘Children of Men’ I thought it seemed like a standard road film draped in an apocalypic future. Glad to see there is more depth to it.

  30. bobbob911 says:

    I have to say something else. For my money, Pan’s Labyrinth is by far the most overrated film of the year for me. The ‘real world’ portion (which comprises 95% of the film, contrary to expectations) is a rote, by-the-numbers WWII-nazi-type melodrama (yes, I realize its neither WWII nor nazis) that would have looked facile in an Indiana Jones film.
    The fantasy segments taken by themselves were good but really, as a whole did they tell a compelling story? No they did not. The story was videogame writing at best (get the item, get another item, get… A THIRD item!)
    So for me, swing and a miss.

The Hot Blog

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon