University of Illinois Press

Contemporary Film Directors

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Contemporary Film Directors

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Abel Ferrara

Nicole Brenez

In this concise study, Nicole Brenez argues for Abel Ferrara's place in a line of grand inventors who have blurred distinctions between industry and avant-garde film, including Orson Welles, Monte Hellman, and Nicholas Ray. Rather than merely reworking genre film, Brenez understands Ferrara's oeuvre as formulating new archetypes that depict the evil of the modern world. Focusing as much on the human figure as on elements of storytelling, she argues that films such as Bad Lieutenant express this evil through visionary characters struggling against the inadmissible (inadmissible behavior, morality, images, and narratives).

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Agnès Varda

Kelley Conway

Both a precursor to and a critical member of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda weaves documentary and fiction into tapestries that portray distinctive places and complex human beings. Critics and aficionados have celebrated Varda's independence and originality since the New Wave touchstone Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) brought her a level of international acclaim she has yet to relinquish. Film historian Kelley Conway traces Varda's works from her 1954 debut La Pointe Courte through a varied career that includes nonfiction and fiction shorts and features, installation art, and the triumphant 2008 documentary The Beaches of Agnès . Drawing on Varda's archives and conversations with the filmmaker, Conway focuses on the concrete details of how Varda makes films: a project's emergence, its development and the shifting forms of its screenplay, the search for financing, and the execution from casting through editing and exhibition. In the process, she explores the artistic consistencies and bold changes in Varda's career and reveals how one woman charted a nontraditional trajectory through independent filmmaking.

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Albert Maysles

Joe McElhaney

Albert Maysles has created some of the most influential documentaries of the postwar period. Such films as Salesman, Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens continue to generate intense debate about the ethics and aesthetics of the documentary form. In this in-depth study, Joe McElhaney offers a novel understanding of the historical relevance of Maysles. By closely focusing on Maysles's expressive use of his camera, particularly in relation to the filming of the human figure, this book situates Maysles's films within not only documentary film history but film history in general, arguing for their broad-ranging importance to both narrative film and documentary cinema. Complete with an engaging interview with Maysles and a detailed comparison of the variant releases of his documentary on the Beatles (What's Happening: The Beatles in the U.S.A. and The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit), this work is a pivotal study of a significant filmmaker.

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Celestino Deleyto and Maria del Mar Azcona

This in-depth study of Mexican film director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu explores his role in moving Mexican filmmaking from a traditional nationalist agenda toward a more global focus. Working in the United States and in Mexico, Inarritu crosses national borders while his movies break the barriers of distribution, production, narration, and style. His features also experiment with transnational identity as characters emigrate and settings change. In studying the international scope of Inarritu's influential films Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, Celestino Deleyto and Maria del Mar Azcona trace common themes such as human suffering and redemption, chance, and accidental encounters. The authors also analyze the director's powerful visual style and his consistent use of multiple characters and a fragmented narrative structure. The book concludes with a new interview of Inarritu that touches on the themes and subject matter of his chief works.

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Christian Petzold

Jaimey Fisher

In eleven feature films across two decades, Christian Petzold has established himself as the most critically celebrated director in contemporary Germany. The best-known and most influential member of the Berlin School, Petzold's career reflects the trajectory of German film from 1970s New German Cinema to more popular fare in the 1990s and back again to critically engaged and politically committed filmmaking. His combination of critical celebration and popular success underscores Petzold's singular cinematic achievement: the deliberate and shrewd negotiation of art cinema and popular Hollywood genre.

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Claire Denis

Judith Mayne

Widely regarded as one of the most innovative and passionate filmmakers working in France today, Claire Denis has continued to make beautiful and challenging films since the 1988 release of her first feature, Chocolat. Judith Mayne's comprehensive study of these films traces Denis's career and discusses her major feature films in rich detail. Born in Paris but having grown up in Africa, Denis explores in her films the legacies of French colonialism and the complex relationships between sexuality, gender, and race. From the adult woman who observes her past as a child in Cameroon to the Lithuanian immigrant who arrives in Paris and watches a serial killer to the disgraced French Foreign Legionnaire attempting to make sense of his past, the subjects of Denis's films continually revisit themes of watching, bearing witness, and making contact, as well as displacement, masculinity, and the migratory subject.

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Cristi Puiu

Cristi Puiu's black comedy The Death of Mr. Lazarescu announced the arrival of the New Romanian Cinema as a force on the film world stage. As critics and festival audiences embraced the new movement, Puiu emerged as its lodestar and critical voice. Monica Filimon explores the works of an artist dedicated to truth not as an abstract concept, but as the ephemeral revelation of the fuller, ungraspable world beyond the screen. Puiu's innovative use of the handheld camera as an observer and his reliance on austere, restricted narration highlight the very limits of human understanding, guiding the viewer's intellectual and emotional sensibilities to the reality that has been left unfilmed. Filimon examines the director's ethics of epiphany not only in relation to the collective and personal histories that have triggered it, but also in dialogue with the films, texts, and filmmakers that have shaped it.

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D.A. Pennebaker

Keith Beattie

This volume is the first book-length study of the extensive career and prolific works of D.A. Pennebaker, one of the pioneers of direct cinema, a documentary form that emphasizes observation and a straightforward portrayal of events. With a career spanning decades, Pennebaker's many projects have included avant-garde experiments (Daybreak Express), ground-breaking television documentaries (Primary), celebrity films (Dont Look Back), concert films (Monterey Pop), and innovative fusions of documentary and fiction (Maidstone)._x000B__x000B_Exploring the concept of "performing the real," Keith Beattie's insightful analysis interprets the ways in which Pennebaker's presentation of unscripted everyday performances is informed by connections between documentary filmmaking and other experimental movements such as the New American Cinema. Through his collaborations with such various artists as Richard Leacock, Shirley Clarke, Norman Mailer, and Jean-Luc Godard, Pennebaker has continually reworked and redefined the forms of documentary filmmaking. This book also includes a recent interview with the director and a full filmography.

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Dario Argento

Commanding a cult following among horror fans, Italian film director Dario Argento is best known for his work in two closely related genres, the crime thriller and supernatural horror. In his four decades of filmmaking, Argento has displayed a commitment to innovation, from his directorial debut with 1970's suspense thriller The Bird with the Crystal Plumage to 2009's Giallo. His films, like the lurid yellow-covered murder-mystery novels they are inspired by, follow the suspense tradition of hard-boiled American detective fiction while incorporating baroque scenes of violence and excess. _x000B__x000B_L. Andrew Cooper uses controversies and theories about the films' reflections on sadism, gender, sexuality, psychoanalysis, aestheticism, and genre to declare the anti-rational logic of Argento's oeuvre. Approaching the films as rhetorical statements made through extremes of sound and vision, Cooper places Argento in a tradition of aestheticized horror that includes De Sade, De Quincey, Poe, and Hitchcock. He reveals how the director's stylistic excesses, often condemned for glorifying misogyny and other forms of violence, offer productive resistance to the cinema's visual, narrative, and political norms._x000B_

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David Lynch

Justus Nieland

A key figure in the ongoing legacy of modern cinema, David Lynch designs environments for spectators, transporting them to inner worlds built by mood, texture, and uneasy artifice. We enter these famously cinematic interiors to be wrapped in plastic, the fundamental substance of Lynchs work. This volume revels in the weird dynamism of Lynchs plastic worlds. Exploring the range of modern design idioms that inform Lynchs films and signature mise-en-scene, Justus Nieland argues that plastic is at once a key architectural and interior design dynamic in Lynchs films, an uncertain way of feeling essential to Lynchs art, and the prime matter of Lynchs strange picture of the human organism._x000B__x000B_Nielands study offers striking new readings of Lynchs major works (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Mulholland Dr., Inland Empire) and his early experimental films, placing Lynchs experimentalism within the aesthetic traditions of modernism and the avant-garde; the genres of melodrama, film noir, and art cinema; architecture and design history; and contemporary debates about cinematic ontology in the wake of the digital. This inventive study argues that Lynchs plastic concept of life--supplemented by technology, media, and sensuous networks of an electric world--is more alive today than ever.

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