University of Illinois Press

Contemporary Film Directors

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Contemporary Film Directors

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John Sayles

David R. Shumway

John Sayles is the very paradigm of the contemporary independent filmmaker. By raising much of the funding for his films himself, Sayles functions more independently than most directors, and he has used his freedom to write and produce films with a distinctive personal style and often clearly expressed political positions. From The Return of the Secaucus Seven to Sunshine State, his films have consistently expressed progressive political positions on issues including race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability._x000B__x000B_In this study, David R. Shumway examines the defining characteristic of Sayles's cinema: its realism. Positing the filmmaker as a critical realist, Shumway explores Sayles's attention to narrative in critically acclaimed and popular films such as Matewan, Eight Men Out, Passion Fish, and Lone Star. The study also details the conditions under which Sayles's films have been produced, distributed, and exhibited, affecting the way in which these films have been understood and appreciated. In the process, Shumway presents Sayles as a teacher who tells historically accurate stories that invite audiences to consider the human world they all inhabit.

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Kim Ki-duk

Hye Seung Chung

This study investigates the controversial motion pictures written and directed by the independent filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, one of the most acclaimed Korean auteurs in the English-speaking world. Propelled by underdog protagonists who can only communicate through shared corporeal pain and extreme violence, Kim's graphic films have been classified by Western audiences as belonging to sensationalist East Asian "extreme" cinema, and Kim has been labeled a "psychopath" and "misogynist" in South Korea._x000B__x000B_Drawing upon both Korean-language and English-language sources, Hye Seung Chung challenges these misunderstandings, recuperating Kim's oeuvre as a therapeutic, yet brutal cinema of Nietzschean ressentiment (political anger and resentment deriving from subordination and oppression). Chung argues that the power of Kim's cinema lies precisely in its ability to capture, channel, and convey the raw emotions of protagonists who live on the bottom rungs of Korean society. She provides historical and postcolonial readings of victimization and violence in Kim's cinema, which tackles such socially relevant topics as national division in Wild Animals and The Coast Guard and U.S. military occupation in Address Unknown. She also explores the religious and spiritual themes in Kim's most recent works, which suggest possibilities of reconciliation and transcendence.

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Lars von Trier

Linda Badley

Scandinavia's foremost living auteur and the catalyst of the Dogme95 movement, Lars von Trier is arguably world cinema's most confrontational and polarizing figure. Willfully devastating audiences, Trier has cultivated an insistently transnational cinema, taking inspiration from sources that range from the European avant-garde to American genre films. This volume provides a stimulating overview of Trier's career while focusing on his more recent work, including the controversial Gold Heart Trilogy ( Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, and Dancer in the Dark ), the as-yet unfinished USA Trilogy ( Dogville and Manderlay ), and individual projects such as the comedy The Boss of It All and the incendiary horror psychodrama Antichrist.

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Michael Haneke

Peter Brunette

In this book, Peter Brunette analyzes the theatrical releases of Austrian film director Michael Haneke, including The White Ribbon, winner of the 2009 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Perhaps best known to U.S. audiences for Cache, The Piano Teacher, and his remake of his own disturbing Funny Games, Haneke has consistently challenged critics and film viewers to consider their own responsibility for what they watch when they seek to be "merely" entertained by such studio-produced Hollywood thrillers. _x000B__x000B_Brunette highlights Haneke's brilliant use of uncompromising visual and aural techniques to express complex themes. His most recent films contain what has become his hallmark: a moment of violence or shock that is not intended to be exploitative, but that nevertheless goes beyond the conventional boundaries of most art cinema. Lauded for graphically revealing the powerful influence of contemporary media on social behavior, his films offer a chilling critique of contemporary consumer society. Brunette discusses Haneke's major releases in English, French, and German, including the film that first brought him to international attention, Benny's Video. The first full-length study of Haneke's work in any language, this book also includes an interview with the director that explores his motivations and methods._x000B_

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Mike Leigh

Sean O'Sullivan

In this much needed examination of Mike Leigh, Sean O'Sullivan reclaims the British director as a practicing theorist--a filmmaker deeply invested in cinema's formal, conceptual, and narrative dimensions. In contrast with Leigh's prevailing reputation as a straightforward crafter of social realist movies, O'Sullivan illuminates the visual tropes and storytelling investigations that position Leigh as an experimental filmmaker who uses the art and artifice of cinema to frame tales of the everyday and the extraordinary alike._x000B__x000B_Concentrating on the most recent two decades of Leigh's career, the study examines how Naked, Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake, and other less-discussed films such as Four Days in July and The Short and Curlies engage narrative convergence and narrative diffusion, the tension between character and plot, the interplay of coincidence and design, cinema's relationship to other systems of representation, and the filmic rendering of the human figure. This volume also includes key selections from O'Sullivan's several interviews with Leigh.

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Paul Thomas Anderson

Since his explosive debut with the indie sensation Hard Eight , Paul Thomas Anderson has established himself as one of contemporary cinema's most exciting artists. His 2002 feature Punch-Drunk Love radically reimagined the romantic comedy. Critics hailed There Will Be Blood as a key film of the new millennium. In The Master , Anderson jarred audiences with dreamy amorphousness and a departure from conventional story mechanics. Acclaimed film scholar and screenwriter George Toles approaches these three films in particular, and Anderson's oeuvre in general, with a focus on the role of emergence and the production of the unaccountable. Anderson, Toles shows, is an artist obsessed with history, workplaces, and environments but also intrigued by spaces as projections of the people who dwell within. Toles follows Anderson from the open narratives of Boogie Nights and Magnolia through the pivot that led to his more recent films, Janus-faced masterpieces that orbit around isolated central characters--and advance Anderson's journey into allegory and myth. Blending penetrative analysis with a deep knowledge of filmic storytelling, Paul Thomas Anderson tours an important filmmaker's ever-deepening landscape of disconnection.

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Philip Kaufman

American director Philip Kaufman is hard to pin down: a visual stylist who is truly literate, a San Franciscan who often makes European films, he is an accessible storyteller with a sophisticated touch. Celebrated for his vigorous, sexy, and reflective cinema, Kaufman is best known for his masterpiece The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the astronaut saga The Right Stuff. His latest film, Hemingway & Gellhorn (premiering May 2012 on HBO), stars Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen._x000B__x000B_In this study, Annette Insdorf argues that the stylistic and philosophical richness of Kaufman's cinema makes him a versatile auteur. She demonstrates Kaufman's skill at adaptation, how he finds the precise cinematic device for a story drawn from seemingly unadaptable sources, and how his eye translates the authorial voice from books that serve as inspiration for his films. Closely analyzing his movies to date (including Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Wanderers, and Quills), Insdorf links them by exploring the recurring and resonant themes of sensuality, artistic creation, codes of honor, and freedom from manipulation. While there is no overarching label or bold signature that can be applied to his oeuvre, she illustrates the consistency of themes, techniques, images, and concerns that permeates all of Kaufman's works.

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Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater's filmmaking choices seem to defy basic patterns of authorship. From his debut with the inventive independent narrative Slacker, the Austin-based director's divergent films have included the sci-fi noir A Scanner Darkly, the socially conscious Fast Food Nation, the kid-friendly The School of Rock, the teen ensemble Dazed and Confused, and the twin romances Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Yet throughout his varied career spanning two decades,Linklater has maintained a sense of integrity while working within a broad range of budgets, genres, and subject matters._x000B__x000B_Identifying a critical commonality among so much variation, David T. Johnson analyzes Linklater's preoccupation with the concept of time in many of his films, focusing on its many forms and aspects: the subjective experience of time and the often explicit, self-aware ways that characters discuss that experience; time and memory, and the ways that characters negotiate memory in the present; the moments of adolescence and early adulthood as crucial moments in time; the relationship between time and narrative in film; and how cinema, itself, may be becoming antiquated. Crucially filling a gap in critical studies of this American director, the volume concludes with an interview with Linklater discussing his career.

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Sally Potter

This survey of Sally Potters work documents and explores her cinematic development from the feminist reworking of Puccinis opera La Boheme in Thriller to the provocative contemplation of romantic relationships after 9/11 in Yes. Catherine Fowler traces a clear trajectory of developing themes and preoccupations and shows how Potter uses song, dance, performance, and poetry to expand our experience of cinema beyond the audiovisual. At the heart of Potters work we find a concern with the ways in which narrative has circumscribed the actions of women and their ability to act, speak, look, desire, and think for themselves. Her first two films, Thriller and The Gold Diggers, largely deconstruct found stories, cliches, and images, while her later films create new and original narratives that place female acts, voices, looks, desires and thoughts at their center. Fowlers analysis is supplemented by a detailed filmography, bibliography, and an interview with the director.

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Spike Lee

Todd McGowan

Since the release of Do the Right Thing in 1989, Spike Lee has established himself as a cinematic icon. Lee's mostly independent films garner popular audiences while at the same time engaging in substantial political and social commentary. He is arguably the most accomplished African American filmmaker in cinematic history, and his breakthrough paved the way for the success of many other African Americans in film. In this first single-author scholarly examination of Spike Lee's oeuvre, Todd McGowan shows how Lee's films, from She's Gotta Have It through Red Hook Summer, address crucial social issues such as racism, paranoia, and economic exploitation in a formally inventive manner. McGowan argues that Lee uses excess in his films to intervene in issues of philosophy, politics, and art. McGowan contends that it is impossible to watch a Spike Lee film in the way that one watches a typical Hollywood film. By forcing observers to recognize their unconscious enjoyment of violence, paranoia, racism, sexism, and oppression, Lee's films prod spectators to see differently and to confront their own excess. In the process, his films reveal what is at stake in desire, interpersonal relations, work, and artistic creation itself.

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