Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The 100 Most Influential Canons of World Cinema

     Influence is defined as that intangible power which can affect a person, thing or course of events. Many believe that motion pictures, more than any art form in the past century, have a profound influence on modern life. I would go further and say, it is hard to argue against that. If one accepts the tenet that directors more than any other creative force in the film production, are responsible for guiding and shaping cinema, then obviously the film directors as a group have had a vastly underestimated effect on how the society thinks and believe. But which director has had the most influence on other directors, the style, form and content of cinema, as well as on the public? In the past 100 years, which directors have made an indelible impact on our lives and on the art of movie making process? In what ways have the filmmakers helped to define cinema as we know and see it today? Who are the auteurs, who challenged and broke the traditional notion of filmmaking? Who amongst them have inspired the later generation of filmmakers and have left a real legacy behind? Who are the innovators in the medium of cinematic form and language?

     In the entire history of cinema, there are very few directors who have made an honest effort to rescue cinema as an art when it seems to be drowned in a sea of glamorized triviality, when human relationships on screen have been reduced to predictable banality, sloppy melodrama, extravagant gizmos and money rules the production and distribution of films. Amidst this cinematic catastrophe, crass commercialism, what puts these directors in a class of their own and catapult their films onto a height inaccessible to other filmmakers? It is first and foremost, their uncompromising stance, never to give up attitude against all odds. It is their self belief that cinema is an art form, and they offer not only a truthful experience to the viewers of real life but also imprint their signature in the film. Their attempt to make other directors aware of the fact that the most convincing of the art demand a special responsibility on the part of those who work on it, because, the methods by which cinema affects audiences can be used far more easily and rapidly for their moral decomposition than any other means of traditional art forms. As Tarkovsky puts in his book "Sculpting in Time" "....We have reached a time when we must declare open warfare on mediocrity, greyness and lack of expressiveness, and make creative enquiry a rule in cinema....The only condition of fighting for the right to create is faith in your own vocation, readiness to serve, and refusal to compromise." An auteur will inevitably put his mark, maybe in the content or the style or both while creating his work of art.

     In today’s generation, when discursive and critical film analysis has been dispensed with, replacing it with box-office standings and popularity ratings by viewer's poll, when big money, studios and profit oriented global distribution system has a vice like grip on the filmmaking process, where there is a general apathy towards serious cinema amongst the general populace (for they use cinema as a stress buster ), where there is a general decline of cinephilia and TV soap operas and "reality" shows provide instant gratification, it is very difficult to stand out, believe in oneself, take risk and make good cinema. Still, in spite of so many hurdles we see in today's world artists like Kiarostami, Hou Hsien Hsiao, Angelopoulos, Mike Leigh, Lars von Trier and Sokurov making the last ditch effort to save cinema in its pure form. 

     The era of silent films is known as the "Golden Age" of cinema. The auteur of this era overcame the lack of sound by producing visual brilliance. In the absence of studio interferences these directors were free to experiment and innovate, which they successfully did and laid the foundation of modern cinematic language. Many of these directors successfully graduated into the sound era. Many of them were absolute genius. Jean Renoir describes the fascination this generation holds for its juniors, "I am pursued by the insistent questions of young colleagues for whom everything that preceded the talking film seems as distant and mysterious as the movement of the great glaciers in the prehistoric period. We elders enjoy a respect analogous to what the modern artist feels in front of the graffiti of the caves of Lascaux. The comparison is flattering and brings us the satisfaction of knowing that we weren't wasting film." 

     The Golden era of Hollywood began in 1927 with the release of "The Jazz Singer" and it lasted till 1960s. The mode of production came to be known as the Hollywood studio system and the star system, which standardized the way movies were produced. All film workers (actors, directors, screenwriters, editors etc) were employees of a particular film studio. Most Hollywood pictures adhered closely to a genre- Western, comedy, film-noir, musical, animated cartoon, biopic- and the same creative teams often worked on different genre of films made by the same studio. This resulted in certain uniformity to film style: directors were encouraged to think themselves as employees rather than artists, and hence auteurs did not flourish. However, there were directors who worked against this stringent restrictions, interferences and endeavoured to express their originality and art form. The most notable amongst them were Orson Welles (who ultimately took artistic refuge in Europe), Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, John Ford, George Cukor, Frank Capra, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder and Nicholas Ray.

     The French New Wave, which was never a school or a tight group, was a spontaneous and important movement that spread rapidly beyond France's borders. Truffaut in his 1957 article summed up the essence of the emerging New Wave by his naive but sincere profession of faith: " The film of tomorrow appears to me as even more personal than an individual and autobiographical novel, like a confession, or a diary. The young filmmakers will express themselves in the first person and will relate what has happened to them: it may be the story of their first love or their most recent; of their political awakening; the story of a trip, a sickness, their military service, their marriage, their last vacation ... and it will be enjoyable because it will be true and new - The film of tomorrow will be an act of love. "The New Wave filmmakers changed forever the language of cinema and had enormous influence on world cinema. They pushed the boundary of filmmaking style to unthinkable horizon, which is best epitomized in the words of Godard: "I've chosen to do what others aren't doing. No one does that, so it remains to be done, let's try it. If already being done, there's no point in me doing it as well."

     What the “New Wave” moviemakers improvised was a spontaneous, independent cinema, a cinema that lived in their world and spoke to their generation. It was rough and unpolished, but honest and seldom uncommitted. Simultaneously, New Wave cinema exploded in different parts of the world, directly or indirectly influenced by  the French New Wave. However, in most of these cases, though there was an inspiration, the uprising was more related to indigenous factors. Japanese New Wave rose at the same time and except for the journalistic label bear no resemblance to French New Wave. Filmmakers like Nagisa Oshima, Imamura, Masumara and Kaneto Shindo came into prominence. Before that the Japanese Golden Age belonged to Mizoguchi, Ozu,Kurosawa, Kinoshita, Ichikawa and Nakahira. The German New Cienma was a more direct influence of French New Wave. Alexander Kluge was the pioneer and with him emerged a host of auteurs: Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders and Schlondorff. With the political free-speech prevailing in Czeckoslovakia before the Prague uprising, Czech cinema captured worldwide attention with a series of honest films that criticized social and political conditions. In Poland, the products of Lodz film school like Polanski and Wajda caught international attention.

     The American independent cinema movement, pioneered by John Cassavetes, embraced the notion of art cinema, and therefore has become a breeding ground for the more diverse cinematic conventions and traits that are inherently linked with the art film. These Indie film are low budgeted, adopt formal strategies that disrupt or abandon the smooth flowing conventions associated with the mainstream Hollywood style and they offer challenging perspective on social issues, a rarity in Hollywood. Hans Richter was one of the pioneers of avant-garde film movement, Maya Derren redefined it and Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Warhol and Jonas Mekas improvised further.

     The Italian cinema saw the neorealistic movement immediately post-war with the advent of Rossellini, De Sica and Visconti. In the 1960s a host of auteurs emerged like Antonioni, Pasolini, Bertolucci, Bellocchio and Sergio Leone. Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci pioneered the horror genre which influenced later on the Hollywood directors like Carpenter and Sam Raimi.

     The influence of the French New Wave has spread worldwide - from Latin America to Africa and Asia. It is observed that the most innovative films are now coming out from these three continents. From the beginning, the cinema has been a major target of censors, the state and traditionalists afraid of its powerful impact, especially when manipulated by aesthetic and ideological innovations and rebels. As a result, public cinema has often found it difficult to display openly some of man's most fundamental experiences. Today, however, neither fear nor repression seem able to stem an accelerating world-wide trend towards a more liberated cinema, in which subjects and forms hitherto considered unthinkable or forbidden are boldly explored.

     Below here is the list of 100 most influential directors who shaped the style and content of world cinema for good with imagination, honesty, purposefulness, innovation and sheer brilliance and had enormous impact on a series of subsequent generation of filmmakers. The list includes directors in a chronological order of their best period of creative output or their most important masterpiece. The list covers the entire gamut and varieties of cinematic form, from feature films to documentaries, from avant-garde to experimental films. I have prepared this list painstakingly after exhaustive study and watching of films and honestly tried to eliminate the bias existing in the western print media in favour of particularly Hollywood directors. 

     One aspect that is clear from the selection of the list is that the mark of a genius, the success and influence on the industry is a matter of quality over quantity. As Truffaut said, ".... a filmmaker shows what his career will be in his first 150 feet of film." Jean Vigo made only three movies in his life but labelled a genius by that one sheer masterpiece, "L'Atalante". The fact that Eisenstein or Tarkovsky is incorporated with only seven films to their credit - proves that the momentun from one film alone can extend generations into the future. And although, Welles, Truffaut and Godard have much larger filmographies, their inclusion is due, in large part, to the impact of a single early work. Studios have always tried to lure all moviemakers into an established "system", but it is those who have decided to break the rules, explore the unknown, become the true cinema mavericks, and have succeded in being the most revered, remembered and influential.

     This list will be followed by a further list of another 400 greatest filmmakers (alphabetically arranged). I have carefully kept out of these lists those directors, whom I feel are purely commercial, pretentious and over-hyped. Also, I have refrained from ranking the directors, which is a favourite past time of many journals and critics because a work of art is abstract and subjective and cinema making process of different eras have different factors governing it be it social, economical, moral, technical and political. Therefore, any attempt to rank geniuses is just engaging in fruitless semantics. Still, if you ask my personal favourites, I can name a few straightaway. They are Jean Renoir, Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Jacques Rivette, Fassbinder and Truffaut.

Up to 1930
1. Georges Meleius          (France)
2. Louis Feuillude            (France)
3. D. W. Griffith              (USA)
4. Charles Spencer Chaplin (USA)
5. Erich von Stroheim      (USA)
6. Hans Richter               (Germany)
7. Sergei Eisenstein         (USSR)
8. Buster Keaton            (USA)
9. F. W. Murnau            (Germany, USA)
10. G. W. Pabst             (Germany)
11. Vsevolod Pudovkin  (USSR)
12. Fritz Lang                (Germany, USA)
13. Carl Theodore Dreyer (Denmark)
14. Marcel L'Herbier     (France)
15. Ernst Lubitsch         (Germany, USA)
16. Dziga Vertov           (USSR)
17. Jacques Feyder       (France)
18. Alexander Dovzhenko (USSR)
19. King Vidor             (USA)
20. Joseph von Sternberg (Austria,USA)
21. Abel Gance            (France)

1930 - 45 
22.  Rene Clair                  (France)
23.  Raoul Walsh               (USA)
24.  Jean Vigo                   (France)
25.  Jean Renoir                (France)
26.  Howard Hawks          (USA)
27.  Leo McCarey             (USA)
28.  Yasujiro Ozu              (Japan)
29.  Julien Duvivier            (France)
30.  Alfred Hitchcock        (UK,USA)
31.  Frank Capra               (USA)
32.  Louis Bunuel              (Spain, Mexico, France)
33.  George Cukor            (USA)
34.  Kenji Mizoguchi         (Japan)
35.  Orson Welles             (USA, France)
36.  Jean Cocteau             (France)
37.  John Ford                  (USA)
38.  Billy Wilder               (USA)
39.  Vincente Minnelli       (USA)
40.  Otto Preminger          (USA)
41.  Max Ophuls              (Germany, USA, France)
42.  Maya Derren             (USA)

1945 -59

43.  Michael Powell                 (UK)
44.  Marcel Carne                   (France)
45.  Roberto Rossellini             (Italy)
46.  Vittoria De Sica                (Italy)
47.  Luchino Visconti               (Italy)
48.  Robert Aldrich                  (USA)
49. Norman McLaren           (Canada)
50.  Anthony Mann                  (USA)
51.  Akira Kurosawa               (Japan)
52.  Henry Georges Clouzot     (France)
53.  Ingmar Bergman               (Sweden)
54.  Satyajit Ray                      (India)
55.  Jean Rouch                       (France)
56.  Keisuke Kinoshita             (Japan)
57.  Kon Ichikawa                    (Japan)
58.  Nicholas Ray                    (USA)
59.  Robert Bresson                 (France)
60.  Stan Brakhage                   (USA)
61.  Samuel Fuller                     (USA)
62.  Stanley Kubrick                 (USA, UK)
63.  Frederico Fellini                 (Italy)
64. Jacques Tati                        (France)
65.  Alain Resnais                      (France)

1959 -75

66.  Francoise Truffaut              (France)
67.  Jean-Luc Godard               (France)
68.  Jacques Rivette                  (France)
69.  Chris Marker                     (France)
70.  Louis Malle                        (France)
71.  Eric Rohmer                       (France)
72.  Jacques Demy                    (France)
73.  Claude Chabrol                  (France)
74.  Kenneth Anger                   (USA)
75.  Michaelangelo Antonioni     (Italy)
76.  Nagisa Oshima                   (Japan)
77. Jan Svankmajor                   (Czech Rep)
78.  Sergio Leone                      (Italy)
79.  Sergei Paradjanov              (USSR)
80.  Mario Bava                        (Italy)
81.  Alexander Kluge                (Germany)
82.  Sam Peckinpah                  (USA)
83.  Pier Paolo Pasolini             (Italy)
84.  Bernardo Bertolucci           (Italy)
85.  John Cassavetes                (USA)
86.  Andrei Tarkovsky             (USSR, Sweden, Italy)
87.  Roman Polanski                (Poland, USA, UK)

1975 -2010

88.  Rainer Werner Fassbinder  (Germany)
89.  Werner Herzog                  (Germany)
90.  Robert Altman                   (USA)
91.  Woody Allen                     (USA)
92.  Steven Spielberg                (USA)
93.  Francis Ford Coppola        (USA)
94.  Jean-Marie Straub & Daniele Huillet (Germany)
95.  David Lynch                      (USA)
96.  Krzyosztof Kieslowski       (Poland, France)
97.  Martin Scorsese                (USA)
98.  Mike Leigh                       (UK)
99.  Abbas Kiarostami             (Iran)
100. Hou Hsien Hsiao              (Taiwan)