I programmed Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story for my college film society because I knew of its reputation and had always wanted to see it. I was still in thrall to the idea that great movie direction was about the legerdemain of elaborate camera angles and tracking shots. Here was a movie so profoundly human in its rigorous simplicity that the camera didn’t need to move at all. It was a valuable lesson.
Even seeing Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter for the first time on daytime TV, pockmarked by commercials, I was poleaxed by its originality. The best movies usually vibrated with a single pitch—scary, funny, romantic, melodramatic—and yet Laughton somehow stirred those disparities into a ghastly, unified whole. Added bonus: it was scripted by James Agee, our greatest film critic and a personal hero of mine.
When it came to rejiggering the medium, Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s was ahead of the pack. His inventiveness was dizzying, even when I wasn’t sure what he was inventing. For Godard, the film frame was a portal into a world as distinctively his as, say, Bergman’s or Buñuel’s. Weekend’s traffic-gridlock sequence is one of the great flourishes in cinema—a 10-minute tracking shot that encompasses in its inexorable sweep the entirety of the human comedy.
It always bothered me that actors in the movies, even the so-called realistic ones, rarely talked over one another. Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller was not only a visual marvel; it also revolutionized the way we experienced the buzz and hiss and hum of how people actually interact. I listened to this movie as fervently as I watched it.
Read Peter Rainer’s “A Film Critic Takes Direction“