A Mediocre Film About Fantastic Filmmakers
Starring: David Lynch, Bernardo Bertolucci
By Robert Patrick
Filmmaker Angela Ismailos ropes up her favorite directors, culls inspired interviews from them, chops up the footage with a butcher’s cleaver, then splays the expositions out for the audience to devour. The documentary runs amuck with a flurry of waving hands, wafting embers from lit cigarettes, and talking-heads that do nothing but chew the fat about past endeavors. There is no doubt that the bushel of directors that are interviewed here – David Lynch and Bernardo Bertolucci being the most interesting of which – are virtuosos of the moving picture.
Captivating as the participants names are, sometimes the interviews aren’t exactly becoming of their storied works. Often times I felt like I could’ve found more useful information on a truncated Wikipedia article. The most interesting quotes come from John Sayles, who gets short shift in comparison to the time spent on Richard Linklater or Catherine Breillat. Sayles spits out inspired dialogue that is funny and insightful, candid and without reservation. When the auteur is asked about “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson, he rouses some vibrant quips from his mouth.
Surprisingly, David Lynch is the most lackadaisical interview of the bunch. Generally Lynch is somewhat coy and unusual, but here he seems even more sedated and uninterested. The “Blue Velvet” creator is propped up in a chair, his trademark hair molded like an inanimate wave in mid-break, as he mumbles in his treble-induced voice about bizarrely non-linear stories. “The thing about the thing,” he would say, flocking his eyes’ attention to a faraway wall, “is that it’s a thing.” Wait, what?
And then you have the portly, overtly congenial Bertolucci humming about his early memories as an aspiring director. Oddly enough, Bertolucci becomes almost an afterthought after his initial introduction in the beginning of the film. Other directors, such as Ken Loach, say about three nondescript lines before vanishing altogether. The grouping of stories and vignettes fight each other rather than embrace one another, making the documentary look lopsided and without cohesiveness.
To make things even worse, Ismailos, whose job it was to procure interviews from the aforementioned directors, films herself more than some of the filmmakers. She often is pictured, walking alongside pillars or gardens, while a ponderous voiceover is heard detailing the magic of moviemaking. Why is she sullying a documentary about other directors by superimposing herself over the material? The documentary should be more unbiased than it is, but instead, with the inclusion of Ismailos’ inane pandering, it seems more trite and distracting than it should be. Do black and white close-ups of her face need to be in the film? I should think not. Man, does this woman have hubris. Get out of the frame!
In spite of the maddening cameos by Ismailos, the doc does have some fantastic moments. Agnes Varda, whose masterwork is “Cleo From 5 to 7,” is the most candid and listenable participant. The French director bubbles up with bright and clever conversation, creating a vast and enjoyable landscape of words to indulge in. Because of Varda and Sayles, “Great Directors” doesn’t quite buckle from its portentous prose. For those who aren’t quite familiar with many of these filmmakers and their work, I would fire up with Netflix queue and start dialing in their pictures – this is miles ahead of watching this movie, only to be bored by stilted quotes from otherwise great artists.