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Maxine Ehrlich

Favorite Directors

2 posts in this topic

Hi Michael!

I just wanted to know: who are your favorite directors, and why?

Also: why do you think there aren't (m)any female directors today?



Hi Maxine,

Thanks for your question. I have to qualify my answer by saying that I don't really have any favorite directors per se. I have my list of favorite films and, oddly enough, there are just a few that are directed by the same person. There are a number of directors who consistently do great work (Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Frank Capra, Vincent Minnelli, Arthur Penn, Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Donner, John Ford, etc.) but I wouldn't call any of them my favorite director. So, with that in mind, here are just a few shining examples of great directing:

“Love Letters” – William Dieterle

“Song of Bernadette” - Henry King

“Inherit the Wind” – Stanley Kramer

“Lust for Life” - Vincente Minnelli

“The Miracle Worker” - Arthur Penn

“Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore” - Martin Scorsese

“Sunset Blvd.” & “Some Like it Hot” - Billy Wilder

“Day the Earth Stood Still,” “West Side Story,” & “The Sound of Music” – Robert Wise

This is a list of some of my favorite films and just the tip of the iceberg. I think the common thread through all of these films, however, is that they contain great (and believable) performances that paint "heroic" characters in an appropriately stylized context. Now, you may not call Saint Bernadette a heroine, but in the context of the story (and in the way it is told) Jennifer Jones's characterization realistically projects someone who upholds her "truth" against very difficult odds. The same can be said of Kirk Douglas's performance as Van Gogh. It is clear to me that the directors in all these films fully know their subject AND have a clear (and passionate) point of view about it. There's nothing wishy-washy about their approaches to the characters or the way in which they visually tell their stories (whether you agree or disagree with their choices.) I happen to agree with their choices (which is why they are among my favorite films) but, more importantly, this clarity of vision and style is the most significant thing a director can bring to a project.

As to women directors, there are a number of them (I know more who are in television than in film) and one--Ida Lupino--made some very good films. Martha Coolidge is a contemporary female director and she made one of my favorite films, “Ramblin’ Rose.” Perhaps there are a lot less women directors because it was typically considered (by many in the profession but not by me) a “man’s role,” a role that demands everyone in the cast and crew look up to them (much like the president of the United States!). I’m not a historian and I don’t know the ratio of women to men in the directing field at any given time. However, it’s safe to say that we haven’t seen as many women directors making the same caliber of films as male directors have been making overall. I must confess that I don’t know the reason for this. When I was at NYU film school (which, in those days, was specifically geared toward training the students to become directors), almost half the class was made up of women. Many of them had as much (or more) talent than some of the men in the program. As of now, only a few of those women have gone on to work in the film industry and even fewer within the directing profession (most are producers, editors, etc.). I suspect, if you asked the women who did not go on to become directors why they didn’t, you would get many different answers and these answers probably wouldn’t be related to being a woman. Like any career, it’s defined by personal choices and success is dependent on a variety of variables (of which gender is rarely relevant these days). So, finding out the reasons why there is a smaller bastion of women directors could make a good topic for an article or book.


Michael Paxton

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