Reviewer: Jeffrey M Anderson
Rating (out of five): ***
If you're a certain kind of film fan, there's nothing quite like a good clip show. It's so easy to please these fans just by showing scenes from favorite movies. These viewers never fail to "ooh" and "ahh" if you can surprise them with a good clip.
Angela Ismailos' debut documentary Great Directors has plenty of them, and it's a generally happy experience. It's very satisfying to hear favorite directors like David Lynch and Richard Linklater talking about how they dealt with their flops Dune and The Newton Boys. It's lovely to listen to dear, sweet Agnes Varda talking about herself, and it's even interesting to hear what the aggravating Catherine Breillat had to say.
Great Directors can be recommended based on the pleasure it gives to film fans, but it's not a great movie, nor even a good one. Director Ismailos admits she has no plan as the movie begins, and indeed, she hasn't. There's no form or flow to these discussions. They switch from filmmaker to filmmaker and topic to topic almost at random. There are discussions about controversy, influences (Fassbinder in one case, Pasolini in another), humble beginnings, and success and failure. And the brief running time doesn't really allow for an in-depth exploration of any one career. (Liliana Cavani is especially shorted.) The interviews seem fairly candid; it might be useful to know how much time Ismailos had with each of them, and how she managed to disarm them so well.
Then there's Ismailos herself. She appears from time to time in the film, almost as filler. She's in some arty shots traveling between interviews, and the editor occasionally, awkwardly cuts to her nodding and listening, Broadcast News-style. She's pretty, with long, blond hair, and usually wears either gorgeous dresses or jeans and boots. She speaks with a Greek accent, thankfully; if she had been American, this film would have resembled an "Entertainment Tonight" puff piece. It wouldn't be too suprising if the producer argued for more footage of her as a way to add "sex appeal" and help sell the film.
But what Great Directors needed in addition to a point, was a personality. It needed Ismailos to find out why she connected to these filmmakers and discover a way to make herself part of the story. She focuses on certain political filmmakers here, talking about Loach and Sayles, and their particular methods of inserting politics into film. Perhaps that's part of the problem. If she appreciates cinema with a "message" at the expense of personal poetry, then she wouldn't understand why someone like Lynch is great, and she also wouldn't know how to make a great film. If she dearly loves these filmmakers, or some of their films, it's too hard to tell.
Kino Lorber has released a two-disc DVD set that includes over four hours of additional interview footage with all ten directors. There are also a handful of trailers.
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