EAR CANDY MAG Book Reviews - March 2017

Fifty Hollywood Directors
(London and New York: Routledge, 2015)
Edited by Yvonne Tasker and Suzanne Leonard

Fifty Hollywood Directors (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), edited by Yvonne Tasker and Suzanne Leonard. Tasker and Leonard divide their study into three segments: Silent Hollywood, Classical Hollywood, and New Hollywood (up to the “blockbuster” era). Essays include a discussion of each director’s work, a short biography of the filmmaker, a filmography, and suggestions for additional reading. Over forty-five cinephiles, chiefly academics, contributed essays to this commendable project.

To gain an understanding of what the book offers, consider the following excerpts:

Frank Capra: “Although it has been fifty years since Frank Capra retired from directing, his movies tenaciously remain part of American culture. From It Happened One Night (1934) to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) to It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Capra’s films continue to be celebrated for repeatedly foregrounding American iconography and uniquely championing American ideology. Indeed, when faced with the task of summarizing Capra’s life and career upon his death on September 3, 1991, ‘American’ was the adjective that newspaper obituaries most frequently used.”

William Friedkin: “Though an Oscar-winning director who made two of the 1970s biggest box-office hits, The French Connection (1971) and, especially, The Exorcist (1973), William Friedkin is the perpetual outsider, a stranger within the strange land of the New Hollywood. While Friedkin has consistently made films from the 1970s to the present, he has rarely done so within the security of industry support and box-office success. An abiding sense of estrangement characterizes his work as well as his persona.”

Stanley Kubrick: “Critics and fans alike characterize Kubrick’s eclectic body of work, which ranges from film noir and black comedy to science fiction and costume drama, as intellectual, ironic, distanced, and even, at times, cynical. After he earned widespread popular and critical acclaim with the nuclear nightmare comedy, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), fans eagerly awaited new Kubrick films, only to find themselves leaving the theater shocked and puzzled. Prominent critics initially panned such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Barry Lyndon (1975), only to reclaim them as classics and even masterpieces a decade or more later.”

Nicholas Ray: “Ray’s body of work ranges from women’s pictures to Westerns, film noir to biblical epic, and from Hollywood studio fodder to personal European projects. Although he is best known for the Hollywood films he directed between 1948 and 1958, Ray’s status as a Hollywood director is not straightforward. Ray began directing films at RKO, and worked with stars and genres at the very heart of the studio system, yet he was at the forefront of experiments with CinemaScope, gave the world the first American teenager in the form of James Dean, subverted the gender iconography and sexual politics of the Western, exposed the alienated anti-hero of the American dream, and subsequently left Hollywood for Europe. He worked with Wim Wenders and led an unconventional life, collaborating on various independent projects, all the time battling alcohol and gambling addictions and poor health.”

Impressively researched and clearly written, this terrific reference work belongs in the library of every cineaste. Routledge has also published an excellent companion volume, Fifty Contemporary Film Directors (2010), with entries on such eminent moviemakers as Tim Burton, Sofia Coppola, Ang Lee, and Steven Spielberg.

Review by Kirk Bane