Spotlight on the masters of the silver screen who brought magic to movies

Bill  Lawrence and Simon Beaufoy, below.
Bill Lawrence and Simon Beaufoy, below.
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In the first of our week long Artist’s Artist series, some of the the region’s film makers and industry movers and shakers reveal their favourite directors.

Reviewers, pundits and critics are fond of their ‘best of’ lists – those perennial pains in the euphemism that seek to surgically separate hardcore cineaste from casual film buff in the eternal war of art versus entertainment.

But everyone involved in the movies, at whatever level, invariably looks to someone as their inspiration. In this, the first of a series in which different types of artist pay tribute to the person who has most inspired their work, we look at the filmmaker’s filmmaker.

Martin Scorsese was famously once asked to name his top 10 films; he responded by listing 112 titles. Similarly Barry Norman once openly mocked a contemporary who, metaphorically embracing his favourite motion picture experiences, exclaimed, ‘I must have these films about me!’ What, said Norman, carrying them around? In your pockets? At all times?

Clearly we all have our peccadilloes, peculiarities and penchants. Being exposed to art – and cinema is the great art form of the 20th-century – forms us as human beings. And if one is a part of the cinema tradition then it is perhaps crucial to be able to trace one’s filmic roots back to one movie or one moviemaker.

The joy of inviting our eclectic band of filmmakers, writers, programmers, funders, festival directors and critics to participate in this exercise came via their responses. Not one choice was replicated; not one reason for choosing was the same.

Yet each and every one exhibited a fundamental love of cinema: of mood, direction, vision and skill. They write of emotion, laughter, humanity, adventure, familial comfort, dreams, stark reality, wondrous fantasy and the suspension of disbelief.

In the end, it’s all about the magic of the movies.

Bill Lawrence, executive director at film bureau Reel Solutions

In my teens, I loved watching movies, but in my small village, with the cinema closed, it was mostly on TV. Classics stood out in my mind: Stalag 17, The Apartment, Witness for the Prosecution, Ace in the Hole, Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot and the magnificent Sunset Boulevard.

It was some years later that I understood the concept of a director and that these were all by the same man, Billy Wilder. Wilder sidestepped a career in the law to become a journalist in Vienna before moving on to Berlin and writing for the great Ernst Lubitsch.

Fleeing the Nazi rise, he landed in America without a word of English but quickly learnt a new language, both verbal and cinematic. Teaming up with another émigré from the legal profession, Charles Brackett, they wrote the wonderful Ninotchka for Lubitsch and the enigmatic Greta Garbo. But soon they set out on creating a series of classics of their own.

With his European-Viennese view of the New World filtered through the madness of Hollywood, he sees the world through a cracked glass. The result: classic, fascinating Hollywood dramas that look at the strange dark worlds of American society but always with strong human characters complete with their strengths and weaknesses, the best and the worst. There are great scenes and many great lines, “Well, nobody’s perfect!” at the end of Some Like it Hot or my personal favourite, “Alright, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”.

Simon Beaufoy, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Slumdog Millionaire

My illicit pleasure is beautifully honed dialogue by people such as Noel Coward who would craft a sentence with great elegance. What I have by my bedside is generally a PG Wodehouse novel because I absolutely adore the sheer elegance of it.

As regards film, no writer can read Frank Capra, Howard Hawks-type dialogue without sitting back and smiling and knowing that’s just perfect. I care about the feel of the dialogue and the fact that it’s crafted with a certain elegance. These are very old-fashioned words. You don’t use words like ‘elegance’ in film language. And yet if I really want to cheer myself up on a rainy Sunday, it’s Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday or The Philadelphia Story. It’s one of those films that you put on and go, ‘That’s great. That’s really sharp, funny, beautiful stuff’. You go back to those Thirties, Forties comedies and the skill of the writing, the skill of the timing… it’s like looking at a classic car and going, ‘They don’t make ’em like that anymore’. And, my God, I wish they did. It’s about putting a smile on your face, just for a while.

Tony Earnshaw, Yorkshire Post film critic

I can date the moment I switched from juvenile fare to ‘adult’ movies to my first experience of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. I had never seen a western like it. The central protagonists are killers, pure and simple.

Yet in the end they throw away their freedom and their lives out of loyalty to a friend. And the finale of the film is positively apocalyptic: a slo-mo orgy of bloodletting that turns a dusty fort into a charnel house.

Peckinpah revolutionised the concept of the western as the era of John Ford came to an end. He also shone a stark spotlight on unapologetically unchanged men in a rapidly changing world. It was a motif he would return to time and again in films like Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, The Getaway and Junior Bonner. The latter is my favourite in the Peckinpah canon, a gentle tale of an over-the-hill rodeo star returning to his hometown for one last shot at glory. He’s a relic – an 1870s cowboy in modern 1970s America. Out of place, out of time, out of touch with his fragmented, dysfunctional family and desperate to stay on a bucking bull named Sunshine for eight long seconds… Steve McQueen was never better, and neither was Peckinpah.

For the man nicknamed ‘Bloody Sam’ it wasn’t just about nihilism and violence. As a counterpoint Junior Bonner is about regret, isolation and heartbreak.

Sally Joynson, chief executive, Screen Yorkshire

Two of my all-time favourite films are the Ealing comedies Whisky Galore and The Ladykillers, directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Some of my earliest memories are sitting down to watch these with my father so they represent great family occasions for me. I was too young to realise how good these films really were but now I know that they were not only some of the finest comedies ever made but also commented on the vast social changes taking place in post-war Britain.

Tom Vincent, Film Programme Manager, National Media Museum

Teenage years are the best times for discovering films, and I was 14 when I first saw Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God on TV. The film was so far beyond the world of movies I was used to; it seemed as though the film’s story – a crazed, foolhardy mission to look for a strange new world – was somehow mirrored in the director’s attitude behind the camera. Since then Herzog has become my favourite director because his sense of adventure never leaves him. I can rely on him to keep looking at the world with an attitude of clear-eyed curiosity.

Oscar-winning film director Mark Herman (Brassed Off)

It’s hard to believe that three films so hugely different as Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy and United 93 can have been directed by the same person – Paul Greengrass. All so brilliant in their own field, and all in a row. That smacks of genius to me.

He is treading very dangerous ground in both Bloody Sunday and United 93, dealing with difficult and highly emotive subjects but handling them with tremendous skill and sensitivity. I’m not usually a fan of the relentless hi-octane thriller, but the way he directed the Bourne films had me completely converted.

Three completely disparate genres, but all handled majestically. It’s not easy, with well-known historical subjects like Bloody Sunday and 9/11, to make an audience sitting in the cinema still believe for a moment things might turn out differently.

Chris Fell, director, Leeds International Film Festival

As a film festival director I am fortunate enough to have encountered the work of thousands of filmmakers and I have over 100 favourites. I can single out the one who first made me want to explore the ‘unseen’ world of film and to share it with audiences: Krzysztof Kielowski (1941-1996).

The Polish master of documentary and fiction filmmaking captivated UK audiences in the early 1990s with his poetic, dream-like dramas The Double Life of Véronique and the Three Colours Trilogy. But it was his relatively unknown TV series Dekalog from 1988 that had the greatest impact on me.

Steve Abbott, chair, Bradford City of Film

Since being told I couldn’t vote for any of my fellow panellists I entered fantasy Desert Island Discs territory. Every time I sat down to compose this piece, I found my choice had changed. Today’s winner is Martin Scorsese.

As with many other directors with dozens of major credits, there are clinkers there amongst the gems. Likewise, he won his directing Oscar for the ‘wrong’ film – The Departed and not Raging Bull, for example. But his soundtracks are the very best, and I will always remember going to the cinema to see Goodfellas for the first time. Only truly great filmmakers can weave that sort of magic.

Mark Herbert, BAFTA-winning producer of Tyrannosaur

As a package The Godfather I and II are breathtakingly cast, brilliantly conceived and amazingly restrained – the first scene of The Godfather is the wedding – and they just blew my mind. A film becomes a living entity. It needs nurturing and feeding. They take on their own life and energy. Francis Ford Coppola was able to deal with whatever the universe threw at him. It might have been a nightmare but on the screen, which is what mattered, he always achieved.

There was a period of 10 years where he absolutely epitomised cool. A violent gangster story wasn’t the easiest sell but it absolutely smashed it at the box office and won awards.

Cherie Federico, founder and editor of Aesthetica magazine and director of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival

Asking someone who their 
favourite director is poses the same dilemma as asking someone their favourite song – tastes change all 
the time. However, there is one constant for me – Giuseppe 
Tornatore, director of the classic Cinema Paradiso, a film I always 
return to for its soaring soundtrack, heart-warming central relationship 
and the homage it pays to 
something extremely important to me, the cinema.

What is particularly impressive 
about Tornatore is that, as well as providing an expert guiding hand 
for this film, he also wrote its 
charming screenplay – a testament to the span of his talent and depth of his involvement in the project.

As the director of the Aesthetica 
Short Film Festival, I admire the 
way that Tornatore makes great film about film itself and about art more generally.

On Boxing Day, authors reveal their favourite writers.