With Hitchcock waiting release, and looking like it might nab Anthony Hopkins some Oscar attention for Best Actor, I got thinking about the history of the cinema and other great directors who deserve to have their stories told. Now, in fairness, the Hitchcock film is focusing on one aspect and one film in the directors life, very similar to what is happening in the HBO film “The Girl” featuring Toby Jones as the portly director. The films I am suggesting be made are biographies of these great directors, so length is not an issue, let’s do it right. So today I am the studio head and I have decided to make five biographies focusing on the careers of great directors. Here we go with my choices and my casting.
One of the fathers of American cinema, the man who Paramount Pictures built their foundation upon, Cecil B. Demille’s career spanned the silents through the late fifties. He was nearly eighty when he directed his last epic The Ten Commandments (1956) and actually suffered a massive heart attack while ascending a ladder to supervise a shot! He was back to work in three days. A noted disciplinarian, it was his way or no way, and though actors wanted to be in his films, they did so knowing he did not offer a great deal of freedom. A man of faith, some would say a hypocrite, he kept several women on the side, yet professed to be loyal to his wife. Known for his big films, spectacle over substance, he became alienated from the Directors Guild when he went after directors born in Europe working in Hollywood and challenged their patriotism, eventually shot down by John Ford. He was the first director to be a known star filmmaker, and was larger than life. Ed Harris would be the perfect Demille, and the film would focus on the last twenty years of his life, with flashbacks to the silent era.
The most controversial director in movies, Kazan was an enormously gifted bi-coastal director, meaning he was as great with his stage work as he was with his cinema. Heavily influenced by the neo-realism that emerged from Italy after the war, he brought great realism to his work, which often seethed with passion. Part of the infamous method acting movement and Group Theatre, he believed his art should be socially relevant, about something. When called before the McCarthy committee in the fifties, he shamefully named names, terrorized into doing so of course, but still, he did what others refused to do. His friend Arthur Miller refused and went to jail, emerging to write The Crucible, a thinly veiled account of the witch hunt that swept America. The film would explore his life through his rise as a director, both on film and stage, through McCarthyism, the impact on his actions, and the rest of his life. So an especially long picture on one of the most exceptional, yet conflicted man in movies seems likely. Sean Penn would be my choice as Kazan, though he may reject the role as his father was impacted by Kazan’s actions and blacklisted for a time. As long as the script was honest, I cannot see Penn turning it down and of course, we can speculate as to who would portray Marlon Brando (Mark Ruffalo) and James Dean?.
The man deserves a great film made about his life. Cast Robert Downey Jr. again and give him a screenplay and a director worthy of his performance. Do not shy away from Chaplin’s arrogance, his cruelty to actors and people he considered beneath his own intellect, even his own son. Explore his fierce interest in the politics of the world, his abject terror of poverty having emerged from it as a child, and the manner his mother’s mental illness haunted him for the rest of his life. Study his appetite for very young girls, and the powerful connection he made with Oona O’Neill, daughter of Eugene, who he married when he was in his fifties and she was a teenager and they remained together for the rest of his life. What was his life like after the movies? Was he bitter about being kicked out of America? Make a great film about him, covering his work in the silent era, watching him evolve into a cinematic artist. Again, it might be a long film, but worth every frame if honest.
There was talk of a film about the famous, some say infamous German director for years but nothing ever came of it. Too bad because her story is incredible, and she knew one of the most terrible men of the 20th century on a personal level…Adolf Hitler. While she was never officially a member of the Nazi party, Riefenstahl was called upon ny Hitler to direct documentaries for the party, and two of them became the most famous documentaries ever made. She spent the rest of her life living down her connection to Hitler and lived to be a very old woman, still scuba diving in her nineties, still tough as nails in old age. In the eighties Sigourney Weaver would have been an excellent choice, but today, I would go with Jennifer Lawrence in the part
He began his career as a writer, boxed with Hemingway, became a director, cast his father in a film that won both of them Oscars, was a best friend to Bogart, and cast his daughter in a film that won her an Oscar. An adventurer he lived life to the fullest, fighting in bars around the world, going on safari in Africa, cruising down the Amazon, and directing some of the greatest films ever made. He loved literature and many of his best films are adaptations of great books or plays. He was fearless, utterly fearless in his art and life. Depending on where the films begins, Daniel Day-Lewis would be a strong choice, though he might be too old. Then again he’s Daniel Day-Lewis.
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Tags: American film directors, Anthony Hopkins, Cecil B. DeMille, CHAPLIN, Cinema of Germany, Cinema of the United States, Entertainment/Culture, Film, John Ford, Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will