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The Criticwire Survey: Old Directors, New Technology

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by Matt Singer
May 28, 2012 9:50 AM
4 Comments
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Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you the responses in The Criticwire Survey.  We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters.  The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post.  But first, this week's question:

Q: What late filmmaker would most benefit from being alive today and having access to modern filmmaking technology?

The critics' answers:

Danny BowesTor.com/Movies By Bowes:

"F.W. Murnau. He was pushing up against the outer limits of the capabilities of cinema when he was alive, 80 years ago (see the still-breathtaking sequence when we catch our first glimpse of the city in 'Sunrise'); one can only imagine what wonders he'd create if you gave him $200 million and all mod cons. He'd make Werner Herzog look sane."

Daniel CarlsonPajiba:

"Maybe I've still got 'Hugo' on the brain, but I can't help but wonder what Georges Méliès could do with modern cameras, production design, and an arsenal of CGI tricks up his sleeve. His movies had sense of whimsy and theatricality that feel totally divorced from the plastic, assault-the-senses vibe found in most of today's effects work, and I'd love to see what kind of playful stories he could make with 21st-century tech."

Jaime Christley, Slant Magazine:

"As everybody knows, the proliferation of relatively cheap, effective production and post-production tech (DSLR cameras and non-linear editing systems) has further reduced the stranglehold industry once had on production. Not to the point where we can all make mega-productions in our backyard, but who wants to do that? So, while I was tempted to pick a filmmaker who merely met the minimum qualifications of being (a) a favorite of mine and (b) deceased, I tried to bring this question back around to the part about the technology -- what advances we've seen, and their consequences on movies. (I hesitate even to say "film.")  In the end, I thought of Joseph Losey, who made many films I like a lot, but who also had an uncanny ability to change his spots from one film to the next. His mode would have to suit the circumstances of his life, of course -- if anything, he was one of the premiere survivalist auteurs. Still, the range is astonishing. Can you look at his MGM short 'A Gun in His Hand' and predict that the same director would one day make 'Eva' or 'Secret Ceremony?' If he was still alive and making films today -- he would be only six months younger than Manoel de Oliveira -- I can see him creating something along the lines of Monte Hellman's 'Road to Nowhere': something mysterious, apparently hermetic, and highly personal."

Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder/Press Play:

"The easiest answer would be Hitchcock or Kubrick. But Hitchcock often found creative workarounds to technological limitations (the giant thumb & phone in 'Dial M For Murder' when he couldn't go in for such an extreme close-up). And Kubrick would actually commission never before built cameras tailored to his needs (as he did for 'Barry Lyndon'). No, I'm going to go counter-intuitive and suggest someone with an invisible style like William Wyler. Especially, in later films like 'Ben-Hur' and 'The Big Country' you see him achieving a sort of majestic verisimilitude that reminds me of Michael Mann and Terrence Malick. Both have benefitted greatly from digital cameras, which makes me think I'd want to see what the understated Wyler could achieve with judicious use of CGI and a RED. Forget the famous chariot race from 'Ben-Hur.' I'd love to see the enhanced resolution Wyler could squeeze into Heston and Peck's deep-focus brawl-from-afar in 'The Big Country.'"

John DeCarliFilmCapsule:

"It's tough to know which great filmmakers would have embraced new, specifically digital, technology. While in many cases digital cameras and editing systems would have afforded directors the technology to more fully realize their styles, it's difficult to determine who would be open to shooting digitally. The digital debate can be a very personal question to filmmakers, and I'm sure some great directors would have deemed it an abomination. So, I'll pick two filmmakers who, if they allowed themselves, could have used digital to explore long takes. Andrei Tarkovsky may have hated digital, but with almost no technological restrictions on the duration and storage of long takes, he could have mounted some remarkable shots like we see in 'The Mirror' or 'The Sacrifice.' Alfred Hitchcock, on the other hand, I think would have more readily embraced digital. He was always forward thinking with technology, and if anyone could raise the aesthetics of digital filmmaking it'd be the director of 'Vertigo.'"

Edward DouglasComing Soon:

"I'll go with Alfred Hitchcock. The man really knew how to make movies that really hit a chord with audiences of the time and to think what he did with 3-D in 'Dial M for Murder' and what he might do with modern-day 3-D and digital technology, not to mention the improvements in theatrical sound systems with 7.1 sound and beyond. Then you add all that can be done with CG, and I think Hitchcock would be making movies on the scale of Roland Emmerich if he were alive today."

Alonso DuraldeTheWrap/What The Flick?!:

"I guess the obvious answer is Georges Méliès, but since I don't feel like thinking about 'Hugo' again just yet, I'll say Busby Berkeley. The thought of what he could do with computers that could perfectly duplicate camera movements over and over again, or making ten dancers look like 10,000, boggles the mind. He was already a genius with analog, practical effects, but with today's CGI wizardry, the sky would truly be the limit."

Sam Fragoso, Duke and the Movies:

"With modern filmmaking technology rapidly evolving, many contemporary directors abuse and misuse the incomparable tools currently available. If I could choose one auteur to rise from the grave and continue making films, it would be none other than the ingenious and brilliant Alfred Hitchcock. His films range from exquisitely engaging ('North by Northwest' and 'Rear Window') to psychologically provocative ('Vertigo' and 'Psycho'). But beyond his awe-inducing oeuvre, it’s his influential and revolutionary style of visual filmmaking that would have me eager to see what he could possibly do with contemporary equipment."

John GholsonMovies.com:

"If Walt Disney had, er, lived to be immortal... I can't even fathom what he'd be doing with modern technology. The man had a futurist streak a mile wide, and I wonder what his vision of our future would look like right now in 2012. As an innovator of animation, Disney would've continued to push his company to explore the boundaries of animated entertainment, and the landscape of feature animation would probably be very different than it is right now."

Melissa HansonMelissa-Hanson.com:

"Alfred Hitchcock. His gift for suspense is something that is truly lacking in this age of film. I'm sure he could breathe new life into the advancements in CGI and especially 3-D and use them as a tool to tell the story, not a gimmick. Similar to how last year Martin Scorsese showed us what an experienced and talented filmmaker could do in 'Hugo.'"

Jordan HoffmanScreenCrush:

"I'm having a hard time connecting my favorite filmmakers of days past with the ease and speed of digital cameras. Would David Lean have done anything with the RED? Maybe, who the hell knows? It's less of a technology than a current trend in form, but I'd be curious to see some of the legends creating long-form stories on cable. What if John Cassavetes had a deal at HBO? Or Robert Altman?"

John Keefer51Deep.com:

"Jean Renoir.  Who I love.  Whose autobiography is always in the running for most inspiring memoir ever with Sam Fuller's 'A Third Face.' I've been reading 'Three Philosophical Filmmakers' by Irving Singer and in the Renoir section he mentions the director's relationship to technology, his fears of its dehumanizing effects and its necessity as a hurdle to overcome and its ability to better illumine the human condition. I don't know if he would necessarily benefit from modern technology but I'm sure I would watch his web series and would pay for the 3-D if he was behind it."

Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies/Some Came Running:

"It's an interesting question, one that's interesting enough to tempt me away from my standard policy of not trying to get inside the heads of dead people. I've written about the topic before, recalling at how I once scoffed when Robert Zemeckis said, around the time he was promoting 'What Lies Beneath,' that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved CGI. I think Zemeckis was/is right, and there's plenty of textual evidence to back that claim up. One particular shot, in fact, that Hitchcock tried more than once in his career, the camera-slowly-tracks-into-the-action-from-a-great-height shot. He tried it in 'The Lady Vanishes,' and needed miniatures, models, and dissolves to achieve it. He tried it again in 'Psycho,'and still needed a dissolve to actually get INTO the hotel room where Sam and Marion are finishing up their lunchtime tryst. But he could never do it 100% seamlessly. Scorsese's opening shot of 'Hugo' is in a sense a homage to Hitchcock, and like the opening of 'Lady Vanishes' has a train station for a setting. it's a virtuoso swoop from the sky, onto the platform, and then up again to the large clock face looming at the top of the station building, and Hugo's eye peering out from one of the numbers. And of course this could only have been achieved via modern filmmaking technology. So, yeah, I'm gonna say Hitchcock. And apologize for doubting Robert Zemeckis."

Chris KlimekWashington Post/Washington City Paper:

"While I don't think modern filmmaking technology would've necessarily made Orson Welles' career in the movies any more brilliant, I wish he could've benefitted from the way means of financing and distributing films have expanded in the last 10 years. Which, come to think of it, is mostly the result of technology effectively abolishing the once-daunting cost of the basic tools of filmmaking. With the few exceptions that everyone already knows about -- and 'F For Fake' -- Welles always had vision and talent far in excess of his resources. I wish he were making films now. 'Chimes at Midnight' wouldn't have taken him years to complete and would have a proper audio track, at the very least."

Peter LabuzaLabuzaMovies.com/PressPlay:

"My gut reaction was to go with someone like Georges Méliès, but I tried to think about other technologies besides visual effects, and came up with Orson Welles and specifically his cut of 'The Magnificent Ambersons.' If 'Magnificent Ambersons' had been made today, the RKO producers would have still ripped the picture out of Welles' hands and reshot parts of it (which we'd all know thanks to bloggers like Nikki Finke). Pending litigation, they would dump the film in a couple art house theaters and refuse to advertise. But a few critics would have loved it despite the flaws, and start a petition under the hashtag #teamambersons to restore his original vision, which would lead to a worldwide critic phenomenon via the Internet. This would finally result in the studio doing a big screening at Film Society of Lincoln Center, and eventually a DVD/Blu-Ray release with both visions of the film. Now that'd be a filmmaker truly benefiting from technology!"

Josh LarsenLarsenOnFilm.com/Filmspotting:

"Fritz Lang. Considering in some ways the movies are still trying to catch up with 'Metropolis,' who knows what magic Lang could concoct given the tools of today?"

Will LeitchDeadspin:

"Honestly? I think with the speed and quality with which you can make films today, John Cassavetes might make 40 films a year now."

Christy LemireAssociated Press:

"Maybe Fellini because there was such a sense of the fantastic and the whimsical and the surreal to his films, you can only imagine how access to CGI might have enhanced that instinct. But! I suspect he would have been reluctant to use it because he also loved celebrating the odd and the imperfect, and CGI potentially might have made things too glossy."

Joey MagidsonThe Awards Circuit:

"As much as I wanted to write a long missive on how Billy Wilder would have a field day with 3-D and IMAX, or how D.W. Griffith would likely advance filmmaking even further (and offend nearly everyone in doing so), I honestly would most like to have seen Charlie Chaplin get a crack at a 21st century production. Something tells me that he would be able to do dozens of interesting things with modern technology, and after 'The Artist,' I'd like to see a real master of silent cinema take another crack at it. If not him, then Ed Wood, just for the laughs..."

Mike McGranaghanThe Aisle Seat:

"The first name that came into my head was Georges Méliès, but I think that was just because of Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo.' The name I came up with on my own is William Castle. I'm not saying he'd necessarily make great films, but Castle was a master showman who loved a good publicity stunt. I think he'd see amazing possibilities in things like 3-D, IMAX, CGI, the 'found footage' genre, etc. Additionally, the internet would provide him with all kinds of opportunities to stage viral marketing stunts. Castle would probably delight in the insane things he could do in this filmmaking era. The more I think about it, the more I wish he was still here to give us a show."

Tony NunesDreaming Genius/Fangoria:

"My answer is simple. No one. Imagine how much CGI and mo- cap would have eroded the charms of filmmakers like Hitchcock or Kubrick? Look what Lucas did to Star Wars."

Rudie ObiasShockYa.com:

"I think Stanley Kubrick would have a field day with how far filmmaking technology has progressed since his death in 1999. On my podcast, the AuteurCast, we devoted a whole series to the work of Stanley Kubrick. He always seemed to be on the cutting edge, not only on a technical level but a thematic and storytelling level as well. Considering every film he made benefitted from filmmaking technological growth. Whether it be in '2001: A Space Odyssey' and the use of front projection to 'Barry Lyndon' and the use of special lenses developed by Zeiss and the use of the Steadicam in 'The Shining,' which was one of the first times it was used to make a movie. I could easily see Stanley Kubrick trying out digital photography and 3-D to continue to tell stories and to make movies."

Kristy PuchkoCinema Blend:

"I'd love to see what Fritz Lang would do with modern filmmaking tools. Just look at what he did in 1927 in 'Metropolis' with some paint, mirrors and perspective. The film's special effects and visual storytelling are still heralded and thoroughly engaging. It's fascinating to imagine what Lang would be able to do with all advantages of digital filmmaking, CGI and 3-D at his disposal."

Jordan RaupThe Film Stage:

"While his death was somewhat recent, I would adore seeing Stanley Kubrick experiment with today's technology. I can't even imagine how far he would push 3-D and test 48 frames-per-second with Douglas Trumbull by his side."

Katey RichCinema Blend:

"I mean, the answer has to be Kubrick, right? David Fincher would weep at seeing how much Kubrick could drive his actors crazy with 100 takes of every scene, and no need to save film."

Rania Richardson, Community Media:

"Fellini could really have a party."

Craig Skinner, Bleeding Cool/Hey U Guys:

"It is the 'smaller' advances in modern filmmaking that are perhaps more exciting though when considering what filmmaker would most benefit, rather than simply what would be coolest, and in thinking about this I hit upon the wonderful possibilities that modern low-budget filmmaking technologies would provide for a filmmaker such as John Cassavetes. When Cassavetes passed away he reportedly left behind more than forty unproduced screenplays, many of which never got made due to financial constraints, rather than choice. With the easy accessibility of cheap but high quality modern digital cameras and the affordability of home editing software, Cassavetes would suffer very few of the financial boundaries he faced when trying to make features in the '60s, '70s and '80s. More importantly though, it would be fascinating to see what effect the ability to just keep shooting without the worry of cost would have had on his filmmaking. Freed of the cost of film stock and processing, Cassavetes would be able to shoot and shoot, allowing his actors to explore their characters even more deeply on camera. It would be fascinating to see what effect this would have on his filmmaking and witness the changes that would undoubtedly occur in the way he approached rehearsals and character development."

Chase WhaleNext Movie/Twitch Film:

"Stanley Kubrick! But if you want to count dead careers -- Oliver Stone."

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

"Alfred Hitchcock would benefit the most from having access to modern filmmaking technology. During his career, Hitchcock pushed the boundaries of available techniques, whether he was giving the impression of a continuous shot in 'Rope,' or using cutting-edge special effects in 'The Birds' and 'North by Northwest.' It's hard to even fathom what Hitchcock could have made with access to digital cameras and computer effects, but I'm certain the films would have been eye-popping masterpieces. And I bet he would have given James Cameron a run for his money if he shot a thriller with modern 3-D."

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on May 28, 2012:

The Most Popular Response: "The Avengers"
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes"Moonrise Kingdom," "Bernie."

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4 Comments

  • Adam Hopelies | May 28, 2012 6:02 PMReply

    F. W. Murnau gets my vote. The mind boggles as to what the man who defined and perfected the early cinema could have done with the sound film, let alone the technological advances that followed. I mean, can you imagine a film on the scale of Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans shot in technicolor or presented in VistaVision?!

    It's perhaps the greatest tragedy of the cinema that Murnau was lost so early.

  • Andrew Willis | May 28, 2012 4:04 PMReply

    I just watched the Criterion Collection release of The Complete Films of Jean Vigo. I found myself pondering the same question that was asked to all these critics, but in reguards to what Vigo could have accomplished. He was a director that pushed film making to its limits in an attempt to capture his imagination. Who know what he could have created if given the modern tools of the trade. I am also suprised no one mentioned him, and that Hitchcock and Kubrick came up so often. They seem like obvious choices.

  • bob hawk | May 30, 2012 12:04 AM

    The more poignant question might be: Who knows what Jean Vigo would have done even WITHOUT the new technology? How many possibly sublime films were never made? His gone-way-too-soon demise at the age of 29 is a sad note in film history. ZERO FOR CONDUCT had a huge impact on me when I first saw it at the Bleecker St. Cinema in the early '60s -- around the same time I saw HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR and a clandestine screening of Genet's UN CHANT D'AMOUR. All three affected me deeply (in my early twenties) and none of them needed the new technology.

  • Thom Bennett | May 28, 2012 11:01 AMReply

    I would argue that the best ones (Wilder, Chaplin, Hitchcock, Sturgess, Ford, Allen, etc) would not benefit greatly from technology. The tendency is to utilize technology as a crutch. I believe that a film like "Gangs of New York" would have been much better had Scorsese made it when he had originally wanted to. I can't imagine a John Ford full not being shot in Monument Valley in lieu of some shoddy computer backdrop. That said, Fritz Lang and Melies would he interesting cases.

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