Links to sites about my favourite film-makers, and a selection of other films I really like and recommend.

[Film-makers]  [Assorted Fave Films]    [Stuff]

[Woody Allen]   [Robert Altman]    [Ingmar Bergman]   [David Fincher]   [Terry Gilliam]    [Stanley Kubrick]   [Akira Kurosawa]
[David Lynch]   [Sergei Paradjanov]    [D.A. Pennebaker]   [Michael Powell]   [John Sayles]    [Jan Svankmajer]   [Andrei Tarkovsky]
Woody Allen
"The ultimate gateway to Woody Allen. Nothing is left out." Well, that's their story...see for yourself. Personally, I couldn't care less about all the family stuff -- what really beats me is how someone that talented could like Dixieland (*shudder*). Allen made his name as a comedy writer and standup act, then hit the bigtime with a series of classic comedies, in the 70s like the Casablanca spoof, Play It Again Sam and the futuristic romp Sleeper. As he took over directing his own films, he began to create a unique personal style with works like Annie Hall. Always a much deeper director that audiences expected, and a major devotee of Bergman, his later and more serious films haven't found the wider audience they deserve. His magnificent Crimes and Misdemeanours was his last big hit, and many people evidently still long for the lighter style of films like Play It Again Sam or The Purple Rose of Cairo, but his body of work is exceptional both in its breadth and depth and top actors including our own Judy Davis (an Allen favourite) drop everything for a chance to be in his films.

Robert Altman
Altman is a true independent and one of the native geniuses of American cimema, but his importance is too often overlooked. Altman has produced some landmark films - M*A*S*H*, Nashville, The Player - but in between these hits he also created films which, while seen from the narrow Hollywood view as "flops", comprise some of his most personal and interesting work. They include the eerie psychological drama Images, starring and written by Susannah York, the frontier drama McCabe and Mrs Miller with Julie Christie (*sigh*) and Warren Beatty, and the apocalyptic sci-fi thriller Quintet starring Paul Newman. Visit Chris Ward's Geocities Altman shrine to find out more.

Ingmar Bergman
Mason West's site is a good place to go when you get those Nordic blues. My first exposure to Bergman was seeing The Seventh Seal on TV at a very early age. I had no idea what it was, but it sure looked interesting! Not always easy viewing, but one of the world's greatest film-makers. Many people have written many miles of commentary on Bergman's films, so I'm not going to add to all that, except to note that Bergman's  films are landmarks of world cinema.

David Fincher
A director to watch in the 21st century. After cutting his teeth with music videos for Madonna and other he made an interesting feature debut with Alien3 which, while flawed, showed a director of great intelligence and visual style. His next film, Se7en, made no mistakes. One of the best American films of the 90s, and one of the best thrillers ever, it explored the detective genre in a quite original and challenging way, with Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt playing detectives on the track of a demented serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who is committing an horrific sequence of murders inspired by an obsession with the Seven Deadly Sins. The plot is both gripping and intruiging; set in an nameless city, the mood and look of the film is gloomy, shadowy and claustrophobic and the editing is truly superb. Potential viewers should be warned, however, that Se7en is definitely not for the faint-hearted - although there is little on-screen gore, the implied violence and sadism of the crimes is among the most extreme and shocking yet portrayed in a mainstream film.

His third feature, The Game (1997), didn’t do as well at the box office, being esentially a dark solo turn by Michael Douglas and perhaps too clever for the average audience. A redemption fable which plays on the theme of appearance-vs-reality, it's strongly reminiscent of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. Millionaire financier Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is a hollow man, mean-spirited, obsessed with business and emotially dead to those around him, including his ex-wife and their daughter. On his 48th birthday - the same age his father was when he committed suicide - his tearaway brother Conrad (Sean Penn) presents him with a gift certificate from a mysterious company called Consumer Recreation Services, who provide a service known only as The Game; he promising that it will change Nicholas'  life. As soon as he accepts the offer, he is through the looking-glass. The Game becomes a no-holds-barred assault on him and everything he values and thinks true, and his ordered life and business empire rapidly disintegrate as The Game takes control. Although marred by a rather trite ending, the screenplay is extremely clever, has some great twists, and overall is well worth a look. As the name implies, the film is itself a game, peppered with references to other mysteries- like the Hitchcock classics Vertigo and North By Northwest - and there are in-jokes galore; set in San Francisco, casting Douglas is an obvious reference to his first major screen role, as the young detective in TV’s Streets of San Francisco.

His fourth film was another masterpiece. Fight Club was a tour de force. Confronting, disturbing, deeply strange, wildly funny, it is without doubt Fincher's best film yet and certainly the best American film of the 90s, in my opinion. (Empire magazine rates it as the sixth-greatest film of all time). Brad Pitt shows again why he is one of the greatest actors of his generation; Edward Norton matches him all the way and Helena Bonham-Carter is amazing, her role perhaps the most brilliant piece of casting-against type in recent years.

Fincher's next feature due in 2002, is another thriller, The Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster. The synopsis describes it as a thriller about a woman whose home is repeatedly invaded by robbers searching for a treasure supposedly hidden in the house.

Fincher is still slated to direct the long-awaited $100m film version of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama starring Morgan Freeman (whose production company owns the screen rights). Although it's been in "development hell" for several years, it looks set to go ahead next year and is currently being touted for a 2003 release.

Terry Gilliam
Before turning to film, Gilliam was famous for the classic animations in Monty Python's Flying Circus. He earned his jodhpurs co-directing the Python films, had moderate solo success with Jabberwocky and Time Bandits, but really came into his own with the near-perfect Brazil (1985), his take on Orwell. He nearly came unstuck with the wonderful fantasy adventure Baron Munchausen (1989); plagued by production problems, it cost a whopping $45 million and lost heavily at the box office. He regained his stride with the excellent The Fisher King (1991), and in 1995 at last made his best film to date, the brilliant sci-fi adventure Twelve Monkeys, starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. The film was also an acting triumph for Willis, showing that Pulp Fiction was not a one-off event. Once again the reluctant hero, he plays a condemned prisoner sent back through time from an alternate future, battling a terrorist group who release a mutant virus which kills almost all of humanity. It’s a rarity of the genre - a time-travel story that doesn’t leave you thinking how stupid the plot was, and a sci-fi flick with a genuine heart. And one can only watch in wonder at Brad Pitt's bravura turn as the psych-ward inmate. Gilliam's next film was a brave but poorly-received version of Hunter S. Thompson's, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, with Johnny Depp. Gilliam's work is marked by a striking visual imagination, a restless intelligence and a wild sense of fun, and he remains one of the most interesting directors working today.

Stanley Kubrick is, I suppose, my all-time favourite writer/director, and I will always take the affirmative in any debate on the topic "Kubrick is this century's greatest film-maker". Sadly, Stan the Man died of natural causes at his home in Hertfordshire on March 7, 1999, aged 70, and tributes are pouring in. His last project was Eyes Wide Shut, a film he was reported to have declared "my best film ever". The story is based on the 1927 book Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler. Updated to modern Greenwich Village, shot entirely in England, it stars Nicole Kidman & Tom Cruise as sexual psychologists whose work begins to take over their lives. Happily, it was practically complete when Kubrick died. He arranged a screening of the finished cut for Warner exec's and the Cruises only a week before he died, and they were reportedly delighted. Given Stan's meticulous nature, we will never see it exactly as he intended, but it appears that only some minor soundtrack work, and the addition of titles remain to be done, and the film will probably appear on schedule in July. There are some great Kubrick sites on the web, including the Patrick Larkin's terrific Kubrick Multimedia Film Guide, The Kubrick Site, which has a range of terrific resources online, or you can do a Metacrawler search to find new and current links.

Akira Kurosawa
The late great master film-maker, and the person who did more than any other director to take Japanese film out to the world. Hugely influential, his films are landmarks of 20th century cinema. Kurosawa is best known for the classic series of b/w samurai films he made in the 1950's, including The Seven Samurai, and his association with legendary actor Toshiro Mifune. All his films are essential viewing, but my personal favourite - and still one of the best films I've ever seen - is Derzu Uzala (1974). It was made as the result of an offer by the Soviet government and came at a crucial point in Kurosawa's life, just after he had attempted suicide. It is a stunningly beautiful, poetic and poignant film, made on location in the Soviet Union. The story is based on the journals of Russian scientist/explorer Vladimir Arseniev, who made 12 expeditions to Eastern Siberia beteween 1902 and 1930, the film tells of Arseniev's travels in the remote Ussurian taiga and his friendship with his remarkable native guide Dersu. Arseniev's book Dersu The Trapper was published in English in 1996 by McPherson, and the cover features a still from Kurosawa's film.

David Lynch
Lynch emerged in the late 70s with Eraserhead, a movie unlike any other, and became an instant cult hero. His wild, weird gothic/industrial imagination, dark vision and mordant humour set him apart from almost everyone, and there's no doubt that later film-makers (like David Fincher) and many TV producers owe him a huge debt. His subsequent films  - The Elephant Man, Dune, Wild At Heart, Fire Walk With Me and Lost Highway - are unique, and even the flops (Lynch counts Dune as a major failure) are better than most people's "hits". As well as his films, Lynch is an accomplished writer and artist, and was the brains behind the TV cult classic Twin Peaks. "She's dead ... wrapped in plastic!"

Sergei Parajanov 1924-1990
Georgian-born, of Armenian parents, writer, filmmaker and painter Parajanov directed a handful of extraordinary films: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964), The Colour of Pomegranate (1969), Legend of the Suram Fortress (1984) and Ashik Kerib (1988) which he dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky. Although he devised and started many film projects, only these four films were completed in his lifetime and he died in 1990 while working on a film called Confession. Influenced by his own work as a painter, and by folk tales, his films have an unique sensibility and a glorious visual style. He is now recognised as one of the greatest 20th century directors. Like Tarkovsky, his iconoclastic style enraged the Soviet regime and he was constantly persecuted by the Georgian and Ukranian authorities; at least two partly-completed productions were shut down, and he was jailed several times on trumped up charges, including a five-year sentence in the mid-70s. He was released in 1977, largely thanks to a direct appeal to Brezhnev by poet Louis Aragon, and he made two more film before his untimely death in 1990.


Check out the new official Parajanov website at

D.A. Pennebaker
Donn Alan Pennebaker was instrumental in defining the style of modern documentary, and many techniques we take for granted were developed by Pennebaker and his colleagues for their ground-breaking films. His output includes landmark music films: Don't Look Back (made on Dylan's 1965 tour of England and probably the best music documentary ever made), Woodstock, Monterey Pop and the final Ziggy Stardust concert, and acclaimed political documentaries like Primary and The War Room. Since the early 70s Pennebaker has collaborated with his wife, the noted filmmaker Chris Hegedus.

Michael Powell is perhaps the most "English" of the great English directors. Heshould be ranked alongside David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock, but his work has been shamefully neglected for many years, and is still too little known, even though his fans include Scorcese, Coppola and Bertolucci. He began his directing career in the 1930s, but it was his partnership with Hungarian screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, from the late 1930s to the late '50s, which produced some of his greatest work. Under their production banner The Archers, they made a series of outstanding and highly individual films, including the classic war dramas 49th Parallel, Battle of the River Plate and One Of Our Aircraft Missing. In 1943 they made the legendary The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. It was one of the first big Technicolour films made in Britain (all the more impressive since it was made at the height of WWII) and gave Deborah Kerr her first major screen role. Long unseen (Churchill tried to supress it for its anti-war sentiments) it was fully restored in 1988 and is now regarded as a classic of British cinema. Powell also co-directed the famous 1940 Korda version of The Thief Of Baghdad, starring Sabu.

Powell's career was marked by many difficulties and battles with producers and studios over the direction of his films, which helped to undermine his career. After the war came more amazing films - Gone To Earth, A Matter Of Life And Death (which helped launch the career of David Niven), the famous music/ballet fantasies The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman, and the Oscar-winning Black Narcissus. HIs career,and the Archers partnership, began to unravel in the 1950s. Then, at virtually the same time that Hitchcock was enjoying his greatest success with Psycho, Powell's career came to an abrupt halt - ironically, due to controversy over what is perhaps his best film. The Freudian thriller Peeping Tom (1960) tells of a deeply disturbed young photographer, Mark, who has been driven mad by systematic and vicious abuse as a child, inflicted by his scientist father, as part of his research into fear. Mark commits a series of horrific murders of young women, whom he photographs as they die.

Peeping Tom is still strong stuff - the sadistic twist to the murders (which I won't reveal) is still quite shocking, and its disquieting portrayal of the abuse of the young boy is rendered even more uncomfortable by the fact that the father and son sequences were played by Powell himself and his son Columba. Unfortunately, Powell completely underestimated the conservatism of the British public - the press launched a uniquely savage campaign attacking the film; the distributor panicked, and it was withdrawn from release, Powell was tagged as "sick" and "degenerate" and the affair effectively ending his career. It is today regarded as a film landmark, especially for its innovative examination of the relationship between camera, subject and audience, and for its terrifying portrayal of child abuse. After a decade in the wilderness Powell came to Australia in the late 60s and directed They're A Weird Mob and Age Of Consent, his last major films.He moved to California in 1980 and became close friends with his ardent admirer Martin Scorcese. Scorccese became a major champion of Powell's work, organising a re-release of the full version of Peeping Tom in the U.S., and his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker became Powell's second wife. In his last years Powell worked on many unfulfilled film projects, and wrote a wonderful two-volume autobiography (A Life In Film, Million Dollar Movie). He died in 1990.

John Sayles
Writer, editor, director and occcasional actor, Sayles is one of America'a leading independent film-makers. He is a director of great honesty and integrity, and his work is literate, literary and makes no concession to the demands of the box-office. His work focuses on character, and on personal and political relationships; he is also one of the best scriptwriters around and is frequently consulted by major writers and directors. He generally writes and edits his own films and frequently also plays small roles. Well-known to film-festival/arthouse audiences, he is still something of a cult figure, although his more recent films are finding a wider audience. He works mostly outside the studio system, and although "low-budget" by Hollywood standards his films stand above all but a handful of mainstream releases. Sayles cut his teeth writing B-movies for Roger Corman; he made his directing debut with The Return of The Secaucus 7 (1980). Shot in four weeks for only $40,000, it deals with a group of student activists reunited by the death of a friend. Sound familiar? It should - Hollywood shamelessly nicked the idea,, repackaged it in 1983 as a slick yuppie nostalgia-fest called The Big Chill; it made its cast and director (Lawrence Kasdan) famous, and made the studio millions, while Sayles' film remains largely unknown.

Sayles' filmography includes: Lianna (1983); Baby, It's You (1983); The Brother from Another Planet (1984) is an off-beat sci-fi drama about a mute, black alien stranded in New York; Matewan (1987) is a compelling historical drama based on the brutal repression on the Appalachian miners' strikes in the '20s; Eight Men Out (1988) is a unique insight into one of America's most notorious sport scandals, the infamous' throwing' of the 1919 baseball World Series by the Boston Black Sox; City of Hope (1991); Passion Fish (1992) examines the friendship between an embittered, paralysed ex-TV star and her live-in housekeeper (beautifully played by Alfre Woodard); The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), is perhaps his most surprising film to date, a beautiful and poetic mythical tale of childhood and magic, set in Ireland, and filmed by the legendary Haskell Wexler.

Sayles' gritty murder drama Lone Star (1996) gave Kris Kristofferson one of his best-ever screen roles, received critical raves and gained an Oscar nomination for the Best Screenplay. Sayles' latest film is Men With Guns, and is currently at work on a new project called Limbo. As well as his own film work, Sayles has written novels, plays and short stories, appeared in small roles for other directors (Malcolm X, Something Wild), worked (often uncredited) on other screenplays including Apollo 13, The Quick and the Dead and The Howling. He also directed videos for three tracks from Bruce Springsteen's famous Born in the USA album.

Jan Svankmajer
  Czech film-maker, animator, graphic artist, sculptor, designer, poet, author and card-carrying Surrealist, Jan Svankmajer is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable artists of our time - and one of the least widely appreciated. His career now spans over four decades, and and thirty films, but it was not until the mid-1980s that he attracted attention outside specialist film festivals. Despite some high-profile fans like Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam his work is still pretty obscure. He has lived and worked in his native Prague throughout his life, but like Tarkovsky and Paradjanov he was frequently subject to repressive treatment by the Czech authorities.

Andrei Tarkovsky

A personal selection of those we have loved ...

Being There (1978)

Bliss (1984)
Brimstone & Treacle (1982)
Evil Roy Slade (1971) / The Brothers O'Toole (1973)

The Fifth Element
After making his name with some diverting French language films, Besson pulled one out of the hat with this stylish, rollicking sci-fi adventure, which works effortlessly achieving where Independence Day labours. Critics of this film obviously missed the point. Bruce Willis, tongue firmly in cheek, reprises his reluctant hero schtick to fine effect and saves the world yet again, Ian Holm is great as the bumbling priest Vito Cornelius, Gary Oldman hams it up magnificently as the villainous Zorg, and there are celebrity cameos galore, including music star Tricky, veteran British actors John Bluthal and John Neville, 90210’s Luke Perry, fashion desiger Isaac Misrahi, standup comedian Lee Evans, and a bevy of supermodels. The film looks fantastic, not least for the superb costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier and boasts eyepopping make-up, scenic design and special effects. The hilarious script rips along at a cracking pace, piling parody on top of postmodern referentialism, and it doffs its haute-couture hat to almost every sci-fi film and action/adventure film ever made.

Harold & Maude (1970)

The Haunting (1963)
The Innocents (1961)

Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1931)

The Saragossa Manuscript

They Might Be Giants
Where's Poppa? (1970)

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