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With No Direction Home

November 23, 2014

Just because they say “action” doesn’t mean you have to do anything.                                                       (Marlon Brando)

A few weeks back, after the final credit roll, I commented that the film I’d just watched had been “poorly directed.” The question that immediately came back at me was what do you mean when you say “poorly directed?”

I had to stop and think. I could feel it, smell it, even taste what I was referring to. I frantically flipped through points of reference in my mind searching for examples to explain what I intuitively felt. (I flashed on a bumper sticker I’d seen just the day before: “don’t believe everything you think.”)

Oops.

Back to the reality of the moment. From my own experience and training I knew that director’s determine the specifics of a production in order to best realize their vision; working with writers on script; working with actors on interpretation; camera placement and lens choice; lighting choices; imparting an overarching tone to the piece – all this and much, much more, all in service to their distinct vision. After all, it’s the vision thing, isn’t it? Some pictures have it, some don’t.

In the case I noted above, it was all about script as well as the visual language employed to tell this cliched story. There was no way the A-list cast could salvage this material.

Character driven, story driven, mood piece, perhaps a consideration of the medium itself; no matter.

Still.

I wandered over to my bookcase, looking for help. I reached for Elia Kazan’s insightful autobiography A Life (Anchor/Doubleday). It had been awhile since I’d read Kazan. I also reached for Kazan On Directing (Knopf).

Rereading the two Kazan books refreshed my thinking about the craft, both in theater and film.

Next picture you watch, consider the directorial hand at work forming and informing the material.

[Go to wordpress site to view embedded trailer]

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