A Film Director Speaks Up For Creative Control. VOICES FROM `HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST YEAR' PART II
YESTERDAY on this page, actress Bette Davis - in an essay first published in the Monitor in 1939 - discussed the pleasures of acting in movies in contrast to the stage. Today, in another Monitor essay from 1939, director Frank Capra makes the case for the director's having total control in filmmaking. This debate continues today in movie circles. No matter how much input a director allows, are outstanding movies the product of a single imagination? In the excerpts below Capra says yes.
But Monitor film critic David Sterritt says, ``Capra oversimplifies. For one thing, he doesn't tell studio bosses who's going to foot the bills for flops that directors without `inherent ability' are bound to inflict on them. What's important in his essay, though, is its assumption that movie storytelling can be as personal and all-around artistic as work in less collaborative media.''
Capra, a three-time Academy Award winner, was the first Hollywood director to have his name preceding the film title in the credits. At a time when studios wanted directors to function as administrators, Capra resisted. His movie themes, like his life, featured the obdurate individual battling stubborn odds and the triumph of hope over irony.
THE question of how much praise or blame should be given a director for the success or failure of a picture has long been the subject of discussion in and out of Hollywood.
There are, in fact, two rather distinct schools of opinion among studio executives. One holds that the director should be given complete charge on everything pertaining to the production of his picture. The other is that a director's duties and responsibility should be minimized to mere direction of the scenes that go to make the picture.
Between these two extremes, with varying degrees of responsibility, most of the directors of the screen capital perform their tasks.
The first-mentioned status - that in which the director assumes full responsibility for everything - seems to be the ideal one. The more responsibility and control he is given, as I see it, the greater is the possibility for artistic and financial success.
Examining the outstanding successful pictures of the last decade, we find that at least 80 percent have been made by men rated as top-notch directors. To my mind, this is no accident. These directors have succeeded because they have worked in close contact with their writers, have cast the actors and supervised the editing of these productions without interference.
It is only in this fashion, I believe, that motion pictures can become more important - can have something to say to the picture-going public.
I feel that the director must be the storyteller - the spinner of pictured tales. The really good picture almost invariably has unity, cohesion, definite purpose. It possesses the same artistic singleness of impression which Edgar Allan Poe declared to be the essence of the fine short story or poem.
A picture with conflicting ideas is, per se, a hodgepodge. It becomes that even though all the ideas are individually good. One good viewpoint, I consider, carried through to its ultimate conclusions, is far better than many great viewpoints. For when you mix viewpoints, you are likely to get something resembling hash.
The true function of a director is to gather and coordinate his ``tools'' and then tell a story. His ``tools'' are writers, actors, cameras, sets, and the exposed film which must be pieced together.
Each of the ``tools'' is an art to itself. Fine writing, splendid acting, flawless photography, and intelligent cutting or editing are all acknowledged forms of talent expression. These units should be given the utmost opportunity to express themselves but they must all be interlocked in effective teamwork by the director to attain a successful major objective....
More directors, I imagine, would be given such complete control if they would show their self-confidence through insistence; insistence generally signifies courage. Picture companies should even encourage directors - important or otherwise - to assume complete charge of everything they are filming.
Let them sink or swim. The weaker, it is true, may fail now and then. But those with inherent ability will develop to a point where they can be trusted to turn out worthwhile productions.
Someone has to supply the entertainment that modern audiences demand. That someone, as I see it, should be the director. In brief, let the director direct.
Second in a series. Tomorrow: Producer Harry Warner.