For film, summer is the season of hyperbole. Everything is bigger, better, and more groundbreaking than what came just a short nine months before. Critics complain about the lack of originality and then soil themselves whenever a motion picture product proves beyond the middling and mediocre. One of the mantras you hear over and over, from the latest installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman revision to another Michael Bay explosion-fest is: ‘make sure you see it on the big screen’ - as if watching worlds collide and robots ransack the planet demands an experience 70-feet high. Sure, visual splash sells better when not compacted onto a home theater system, but for the most part, video assist has guaranteed the experience will always feel format friendly. In fact, few filmmakers today really ‘get’ the notion of playing to the silver, not the smaller venues.
There are directors, however, who comprehend the needs of the epic. They visualize their ideas in larger than life swatches, switching gears and driving their designs to the very edges of imagination. Sometimes, their narrative demands such range. In other instances, possibility and its motion picture presence are measured out in vast, viable inventions. For us, these filmmakers represent some of the best optical experts ever. Their conceits demand the kind of Herculean housing that only a movie theater can provide. While there are many more one can name (and feel free to do so in the comments section), we’ve picked the 10 that we believe best exemplify the careful balancing act of storyline and scope. If you can, catch them during their often celebrated retrospectives. You and your waning cinematic aesthetic will be glad you did.
So, in alphabetic order, here are our choices for the 10 Filmmakers Whose Work Must Be Seen on the Big Screen:
Often called the Mediterranean Master of Suspense (in deference to his chief inspiration and indirect mentor, Alfred Hitchcock) early Argento is a 70-foot feast for the eyes. From the opening murder of Profondo Rosso to the Technicolor terrors of Suspiria, his macabre vision fills the screen with a kind of nightmare noir. It’s the darkest of dreams and the most potent of paranormal states. Granted, by the mid-‘90s, his vision began to wane a bit, belied by a need to fit the foreign market’s need for home theater product. In his prime, however, he was perfection.
Cameron is all about big ideas and big vistas. His first two Terminator films played the potential end of the world against the oversized rigors of the action genre, while True Lies and Titanic took the spy film and the disaster effort and turned them into elephantine spectacle. It was the amazing transformation of CG and sci-fi into Avatar, however, that secured his position as a creator of mammoth canvases desperate to be viewed in all their several story glory. Watching his movies on even the biggest flatscreen set-up doesn’t do them justice. Instead, Cameron’s compositions, like is talents, are out of this world.
Since he started out as an animator, crafting the unusual and surreal out of his drawings and cut-art creations, it was a natural for this expatriate Python to make the grand leap into directing. Who knew the images he saw in his mind’s eye would require so much pressure/problems from the studios he worked for? Time Bandits covered both differing eras and places on the planet, while Brazil and Baron Munchausen went even further into the fictional firmament. Even when dealing with pseudo-realistic material—Fisher King, 12 Monkeys—he manages to be both grounded and visually arresting.
There would be no such thing as auteur theory had the French not fallen in love with what the true Master of Suspense was dishing out. Indeed, Hitchcock never met a concept he couldn’t capitalize on, creatively, from a disaster on a carousel (Strangers on a Train) to a murder victim’s pre-death shower (Psycho). But in efforts like Rear Window, Vertigo, and North by Northwest that he took his predilection toward visual storytelling and optical wonderment to its most meaningful ends. He remains the most meticulous of the Golden Era greats, a man whose immense size shadowed a unique approach to movies and their ability to mesmerize.
It’s clear to say that Stanley Kubrick never made a movie for the small screen. Even with his proclivity toward the 1.33:1 open format, his framing and composition suggests someone who understood the power in size. From Spartacus’ epic battle scenes (mimicked, magnificently, in the later, languid Barry Lyndon) to the shapeshifting nature of the War Room in Dr. Strangelove, few filmmakers explored the boundaries of the big screen like he did. This is especially true of his sci-fi masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey and his harrowing haunted house exercise, The Shining. In everything he did, the meticulous and majestic became the masterful.
// Notes from the Road
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