Superficial ‘Great Directors’ looks at work of 10 filmmakers

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, August 5, 2010 8:14pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

As pedestrian as its title, “Great Directors” appears to be a vanity project by a first-time filmmaker, Angela Ismailos. This documentary includes interview fragments with 10 international movie-makers, interspersed with film clips.

If you don’t see many movies or you’ve never watched DVD extra features, this might be an interesting way to spend 90 minutes. Otherwise, it feels pretty random.

The interviewees also seem whimsically selected. From Britain, we meet Ken Loach and Stephen Frears; from France, Agnes Varda and Catherine Breillat; from Italy, Bernardo Bertolucci and Liliana Cavani.

The U.S. squad is made up of David Lynch, John Sayles, Richard Linklater and Todd Haynes. These are articulate people (even if Lynch is loath to discuss whatever his films might mean), and even in short glimpses the personalities come through: Varda (“The Beaches of Agnes”) is a poetic pixie, Breillat (“The Last Mistress”) is spiky and forceful.

The film clips are brief, but they do give the flavor of what’s being talked about. You might wonder why certain films are emphasized, seemingly according to whimsy.

For instance, Linklater is well known for “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused” and the wonderful double-play of “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” We don’t see or hear anything about those, however, nor his box-office hit “School of Rock.”

Instead, we see clips from “The Newton Boys” and “SubUrbia,” two of the director’s lesser-known movies. Was it easier to get clips from those movies? Or is Ismailos trying to champion underappreciated pictures?

It’s hard to get a read on exactly what she’s doing, although she generously puts herself on camera, both as interviewer and as subject. In some sequences, she photographs herself walking thoughtfully through film locations, perhaps so we can appreciate the depth of her depth-itude.

Ahem. What’s left are the observations of the filmmakers, and I admit there are some ideas I will remember: Frears suggesting that British filmmakers always make British films, even when they are working in Hollywood, or Sayles describing what happened to his script-doctoring work on “The Patriot” in a choice turn of phrase that can’t be printed in a newspaper.

Haynes (“I’m Not There”) speaks of his film “Far from Heaven” and his respect for the classic Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk. And then there’s Lynch, chain-smoking and wagging his fingers in the air, describing how Mel Brooks saved his career by agreeing to produce “The Elephant Man.”

Lynch also offers a concise description of the appeal of the directors who inspired him, such as Fellini and Hitchcock: You see one of their movies and become lost in a fully realized world that is very different from your own.

“It’s a world that didn’t exist and now it exists,” he says, summing up the wonder of the movies in one simple phrase.

“Great Directors”

A mostly random collection of interview fragments with 10 filmmakers, including David Lynch, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Sayles and Agnes Varda. The film clips are all right and some good observations are scattered along the way, but it barely compares to the average DVD supplement in terms of depth. In English, French and Italian with English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for nudity.

Showing: Varsity.

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