The Directors, The Auteurs, the Commanders of the Ship, Masters of All They Survey. Too much credit is undoubtedly given to them (film is as collaborative an artistic medium as any), but at the same time they still exert incomparable influence over the end product. We’ve recently looked at writers, with whom all films originate, then to the actors, and now we turn to the greatest directors and all they do to hold the infernal enterprise together.
We can only speculate on what might have been, had Charles Laughton followed up on the unbelievable promise of his debut Night of the Hunter. But he never directed again and so is regrettably out of the running. But hopefully there remains a little something for everyone below and of course the intention is to stimulate debate so by all means add a comment for any glaring omissions.
Steven Spielberg – Schindler’s List
Spielberg undoubtedly belongs on this list, but which of his films gets the nod depends on what mood you catch us in. Raiders, Jaws, Munich, Jurassic Park or Schindler’s List. There are no easy choices, no obvious winners. Jaws and Raiders tend to get the nod for their linear simplicity and propulsive thrills, Jurassic Park for its incomparable popcorn entertainment credentials and Munich and Schindler’s List for their unflinching lack of sentimentality – the most mature films in Spielberg’s remarkable canon.
Ultimately, although Schindler’s List does give in to a little mawkishness in Schindler’s own collapse at the end, “I could have saved one more..”, this has to get the vote. Less grueling (arguably) than Munich but broader and more powerful in its scope and more important in its lessons, Schindler’s List is also a technical and acting tour de force. Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Amon Goeth is chilling, monstrous but somehow human too, the matter of fact-ness of his eventual hanging a grim counter-point to the brutality of his actions throughout the film. Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley deliver career-best work too, amply bolstered by faultless acting across the board.
The monochromatic cinematography helps give the impression that we are watching a documentary, the jet black blood (much like in Hitchcock’s Psycho) more impactful than it would be in colour and that little girl’s dress, the solitary glimpse of colour, a much desired moment of hope, crushed when we see it (and her) on the exhumed conveyor belt later in the film.
That Spielberg was working on this and Jurassic Park at the same time is breath-taking – a testament to his phenomenal film-making skills. That both films would become established classics, forever listed among his very best is surely unprecedented. Schindler’s List is a towering achievement and although not faultless (what is?), it deserves its place on this list.