On Valentine’s Day, filmmakers' 'love letters' to each other — from Wes Anderson on Ray to Del Toro on Hitchcock
This Valentine’s Day, let’s celebrate love differently.
This Valentine’s Day, let’s celebrate love differently. Not with a list of films about love. Not with a list of great love scenes. Not with a list of great love stories between stars. So what, then? Oftentimes, when a director achieves something great, he/she inspires envy, but sometimes, he/she also inspires the purest kind of love from a fellow filmmaker, and the appreciation feels almost like a love letter.
Let’s begin with Jean-Luc Godard going into raptures about Charlie Chaplin.
“He is beyond praise because he is the greatest of all. What else can one say? The only filmmaker, anyway, to whom one can apply without misunderstanding that very misleading adjective, ‘humane’… Today one says Chaplin as one says Da Vinci — or rather Charlie, like Leonardo.”
Akira Kurosawa watched Solaris (1972) with Andrei Tarkovsky. He then wrote about the experience.
"When the film was over, [Tarkovsky] stood up, looking at me as if he felt timid. I said to him, “Very good. It makes me feel real fear.” Tarkovsky smiled shyly, but happily. And we toasted vodka at the restaurant in the Film Institute. Tarkovsky, who didn’t drink usually, drank a lot of vodka, and went so far as to turn off the speaker from which music had floated into the restaurant, and began to sing the theme of samurai from Seven Samurai at the top of his voice. As if to rival him, I joined in. For I was at that moment very happy to find myself living on Earth."
And here’s Steven Spielberg, lamenting Kurosawa’s death.
"He was a celluloid painter, as close to an impressionist as you can be on film. More than that, I think he was the pictorial Shakespeare of our time."
I love what Francis Ford Coppola says here about Roman Polanski and David Lynch. But I also love that Coppola loves himself, too, for having ‘genius’.
"I think I have genius but no talent, really. I mean, I know film directors — Roman Polanski is one, and David Lynch, who did The Elephant Man, is another one — who just have that talent. They’re like the kids who could draw in school, and they’d do beautiful work, and you couldn’t draw like that. And they didn’t seem to do anything to deserve it. That kind of talent I don’t have"
Everyone loves Orson Welles. But which director does Welles love? In an interview, he named a certain fellow called Stanley Kubrick.
"Among those whom I would call “the young generation,” Kubrick appears to me to be a giant. [The interviewer interjects that The Killing was more or less a copy of The Asphalt Jungle.] Yes, but The Killing was better. The problem of imitation leaves me indifferent, above all if the imitator succeeds in surpassing the model. For me, Kubrick is a better director than [John] Huston. I haven’t seen Lolita, but I believe that Kubrick can do everything. He is a great director who has not yet made his great film. What I see in him is a talent not possessed by the great directors of the generation immediately preceding his; I mean Nicholas Ray, Robert Aldrich, etc. Perhaps this is because his temperament comes closer to mine."
Woody Allen was a self-confessed Ingmar Bergman fan. Upon the giant’s death, this is what he said.
"[From Bergman] I learned to try to turn out the best work I’m capable of at that given moment, never giving in to the foolish world of hits and flops or succumbing to playing the glitzy role of the film director, but making a movie and moving on to the next one. Bergman made about 60 films in his lifetime, I have made 38. At least if I can’t rise to his quality maybe I can approach his quantity."
You can love Quentin Tarantino. You can hate him. But you can never doubt his love for cinema. Here he is, lavishing love on Howard Hawks.
"I have a strong affection for the singing sequence in Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo… It’s probably one of the best examples of Hawksian male camaraderie... When they show Rio Bravo in cinemas, at revival houses, everyone laughs at that scene, because it seems funny nowadays in the movies: people don’t burst into song unless it’s a musical. Clint Eastwood doesn’t suddenly start singing in Unforgiven. And there’s no soundtrack music kicking in here; they’re just playing the guitar. But that’s one of the things I love about it too: it’s realistic, but it also calls back a different time period in movies when you could do stuff like that and not think about it twice. When I watch it on video I find that scene moving and very, very charming; I don’t laugh at it at all."
Guillermo del Toro identifies with Alfred Hitchcock, personally. If that’s not some form of love...
"Well, we have the same pant size. He was shorter, but [laughs]. Look, I’m fat, Catholic and repressed. Number one. And I dress in black. I identify with him a lot. I don’t pretend to say that I’m deciphering, or remastering his style. I have a completely different sensibility, but I love how articulate he is, and when you read his interview with Truffaut, the most famous film book, I think, it’s gratifying to see a filmmaker articulate about what he does… We have the old masters, like [John] Ford, being almost willingly inarticulate, not willing to talk about it. But Welles is very articulate about his work, Hitchcock is very articulate about his work..."
Wes Anderson loves India because he loves Satyajit Ray, whose music found its way to the soundtrack of The Darjeeling Limited...
"I started to go [to India] because I wanted to work there. Satyajit Ray’s films are part of what drew me to India, and I’ve seen and know a lot of his work… For me, Ray was one of the ideal role models for the kind of director I would like to be. He’s somebody who wrote his own scripts. He often adapted books, but he also created his own material. He was regional and had his own area in West Bengal. He had his own sources of money. He had a little family operation to make his movies, and he made a lot of movies. And they’re often very personal… Somewhere along the way, he started composing the scores for his movies, which I recently heard was for expediency, because he felt like he could turn them around a lot faster than what he was getting from the people he was working with…"
Martin Scorsese and Abbas Kiarostami are a world apart in terms of sensibilities, but when the latter died, Scorsese displayed a surprising amount of love. He said he represents “the highest level of artistry in the cinema”...
"He was one of those rare artists with a special knowledge of the world, put into words by the great Jean Renoir: “Reality is always magic.” For me, that statement sums up Kiarostami’s extraordinary body of work. Some refer to his pictures as ‘minimal’ or ‘minimalist,’ but it’s actually the opposite: every scene in Taste of Cherry or Where Is the Friend’s House? is overflowing with beauty and surprise, patiently and exquisitely captured. I got to know Abbas over the last 10 or 15 years. He was a very special human being: quiet, elegant, modest, articulate, and quite observant – I don’t think he missed anything."
Finally, how can we talk about love without a lovers’ quarrel, or at least the platonic equivalent? Jean-Luc Godard was enraged when he saw his long-time friend François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973). He dashed off this letter, which I have paraphrased:
Probably no one else will call you a liar, so I will… You say: films are trains that pass in the night, but who takes the train, in what class, and who is driving it with an ‘informer’ from the management standing at his side? Because of the problems of [those] who produce expensive movies (like you), the money that was reserved for me has been swallowed up (that’s what I mean, no one prevents you from taking the train, but you prevent others) and I’m stuck. Could you enter into co-production with us for 10 million? For 5 million? Considering Day for Night, you ought to help me, so that the public doesn’t get the idea we all make films like you. If you want to talk it over, fine...
Truffaut did not want to “talk it over”. Instead, he dashed off a letter of his own (again, paraphrased), one that apparently ran twenty pages.
Jean-Luc. So you won’t be obliged to read this unpleasant letter right to the end, I’m starting with the essential point: I will not co-produce your film… I think the moment has come to tell you, in detail, how, according to me, you act like a shit. I don’t give a damn what you think of Day for Night. But what I do find pathetic on your part is that, even now, you go to films like that when you know very well in advance they don’t match your idea of cinema or your idea of life.
The love returned only after Truffaut’s death, in 1985. Godard lamented:
"It’s not by chance that François died. A whole period has disappeared. He managed to do what the rest of us didn’t attempt and failed to do – he was respected. Through him, the New Wave still had respect. Because of him we were respected. Now that he’s gone, we are no longer respected. In his own way, François protected me. I’m very frightened now that this protection no longer exists."
Baradwaj Rangan is Editor, Film Companion (South).
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