Thursday, September 15, 2011

Recognizing Directors’ Styles

Honestly, I do not know where this came from, but it has been swirling in my mind for about a week. I do not even know if it is worth posting, but here it goes. Upon watching Warrior last weekend, I notice about halfway through that the movie is basically a parallel with Pride and Glory, UFC-style. The further the movie went along, the more I realized that the movies are so similar. The emotional brother trying to connect with the hotshot brother, the somewhat estranged father, the final fight scene between the brothers beating years and years of frustration out of each other. The movies are so alike. Little did I know that the two movies had the same director at the helm.

Gavin O’Connor, a director who I am not exactly unfamiliar with, is a quite interesting director. In 1999, he directed Janet McTeer to an Oscar nomination. He directed Miracle, the movie I most identify him with. The connections between Warrior and Miracle are obvious, but Warrior and Pride and Glory are two completely opposite genres. How I made that connection, I have no idea, but upon a bit of brainstorming, it is not the first time that I have done such a thing.

The main example that comes to mind in this vein is the first time I saw It’s Complicated. A few scenes in, I made the connection to Something’s Gotta Give. Terry thought I was just being facetious, knowing that it was the same filmmaker, but I had no idea. Nancy Meyers is the director. She has done mostly all romantic comedies, and now that I look at her filmography, it makes sense that she directed What Women Want as well. She is a talented director of those types of films. Her characters aren’t exactly what make them similar; it is more the realistic and unplugged nature of the script. She lets her actors freely roam around in their characters. Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated are similar in that the romance is between older characters, but they are also similar in the flair of the dialogue and how genuine the relationships are. The visual style is almost non-existent in these films, but for some reason I was still able to make the connection between them.

Finally, this week I watched Gigli (don’t judge me, but honestly, it isn't that bad). There was a certain scene in the movie where Gigli’s boss Louis is chewing him out on the phone, and that distinctly reminded me of a scene in Midnight Run where Joe Pantoliano is screaming at De Niro. The way the character was yelling and banging his phone on the phone booth, the way the camera was facing the character. The scenes were almost mirrors of each other. The further I went into the movie, the more I recognized similarities in the narrative. The car ride scenes with Lopez, Affleck, and Bartha reminded me of De Niro and Grodin riding cross-country. The character traits of Affleck and De Niro are more than a little alike. The kidnapping plot is obviously a connection. Martin Brest is the director. I actually know his work. Scent of a Woman and Beverly Hills Cop are his most notable films. I guess I didn’t remember him directing Midnight Run, and I had no clue that he directed Gigli until the end credits.

Directors, no matter the budget, plot, or actors all have their unique style. That is a given, though. What makes these three cases stand out to me is that these are not directors with visual trademarks. Terry always says that you can pick an Eastwood movie out of a hat, which is true. His movies are always so much bluer than other movies. Fincher movies all are incredibly dark and moody. Scorsese’s films are marked with tracking shots. Gus Van Sant has odd, creative camera angles. Martin Brest’s films look quite plain. Gavin O’Connor’s films may be a bit dark, but nothing to really stand out. Nancy Meyer’s films look extremely ordinary. What these films have in common is how the directors tell the stories. Of course there are similar camera angles, a few characters that are reminiscent of ones in their other films, but it is the story arches and mood of the films that is where the directors leave their mark.

So, what does this all mean? I really do not know. Maybe it just means that I watch a lot of movies. Or I just got lucky in these instances. I wrote this more out of curiosity than out of insight. Has this ever happened to you? What other directors have you noticed have a unique style other than strictly visual? This could be an interesting conversation if we get it going.

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