Fisti over at A Fistful of Films shared that his buddy, M. Brown, from Two Dollar Cinema, is hosting his first annual blogathon in honor of President’s Day. Fisti’s Mt. Spankmore is really such a fun response to the challenge that it inspired me to brainstorm my own Movie Mt. Rushmore: “To participate, simply choose the top 4 of anything cinematic and explain why it should be carved into the side of a mountain forever. Remember, these are real people carved into imaginary rock – so choose wisely!”
My exposure to film has a rather spotty history. I’ve been saturated with some while woefully lacking in others. My first idea was to pick four foreign writer / directors who inspire me with their body of work. I found there were individual movies I really liked but I hadn’t seen enough of these director’s films to justify carving their faces a colossal 60 feet high. It’s a movie Mt. Rushmore after all!
Two directors’ work is so incredible that I have made a huge effort to see several of their movies. They both have formed a partnership with a specific actor, making a marathon of their movies even more desirable. So… drum roll please… my cinematic theme is director/actor collaborations that deserve immortalizing in rock so 2 million people can visit the memorial each year.
#1 – Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock is a very well-known director of suspense and psychological thrillers and many of his movies (The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds) are recognizable to movie lovers and film buffs. What may not be as well-known is Hitchcock’s close relationship with his writers. He supervised every word of the script and insisted on high standards, wanting the writer to focus on visual storytelling rather than verbal telling. He elaborates in his own words here:
“The writer and I plan out the entire script down to the smallest detail, and when we’re finished all that’s left to do is to shoot the film. Actually, it’s only when one enters the studio that one enters the area of compromise. Really, the novelist has the best casting since he doesn’t have to cope with the actors and all the rest.”
And in an interview with Roger Ebert in 1969, Hitchcock elaborated further:
“Once the screenplay is finished, I’d just as soon not make the film at all… I have a strongly visual mind. I visualize a picture right down to the final cuts. I write all this out in the greatest detail in the script, and then I don’t look at the script while I’m shooting. I know it off by heart, just as an orchestra conductor needs not look at the score… When you finish the script, the film is perfect. But in shooting it you lose perhaps 40 percent of your original conception.”
Hitchcock also has many different themes he’s well-known for. Perhaps my favorite are his propensity to include meals and food in his movies. Some of the best scenes are when two people are breaking bread and the words that shoot across the table. His arguably greatest contribution to movies though is his charming sociopaths, such as Godfrey Tearle in The 39 Steps, Claude Rains in Notorious, Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train, Ray Milland in Dial M For Murder, and James Mason in North by Northwest.
As a writer I’m so inspired by the consistency of his vision and his passion in sticking with his story.
#2 – Cary Grant
Cary Grant doesn’t have a large number of movies with Hitchcock nevertheless he embodies the everyday man who Hitchcock loved so much. His debonair good looks intercut with his incredible timing and self depreciating manner made him the best possible cross between comedian and dramatic actor. In other words, he has everything. Everything.
I love him in many of his roles such as North by Northwest, Arsenic and Old Lace, Bringing Up Baby, To Catch a Thief and The Philadelphia Story. He was also just a really great guy. I love his thoughts on politics and actors:
“I’m opposed to actors taking sides in public and spouting spontaneously about love, religion or politics. We aren’t experts on these subjects. Personally I’m a mass of inconsistencies when it comes to politics. My opinions are constantly changing. That’s why I don’t ever take a public stand on issues.”
Also his devotion to family, he retired to raise his daughter and give her a stable home, is certainly to be looked upon with favor. I believe the kind of man he was in real life bled through to the men he portrayed on the silver screen.
As a writer, I see Cary Grant as the perfect example of just the sort of actor you’d want to embody your every man character.
#3 – Akira Kurosawa
I’ve touted Akira Kurosawa before when I wrote about The Hidden Fortress for a Blindspot here. His mastery of film techniques is incredible and his creative abilities in shooting and editing has influenced many filmmakers around the world. His hands on approach as a director is proven as a sure-fire way to control quality and vision.
As a writer I loved reading about how his scripts got written:
During his postwar period, he began the practice of collaborating with a rotating group of five screenwriters: Eijirō Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni, and Masato Ide. Whichever members of this group happened to be working on a particular film would gather around a table, often at a hot-springs resort, where they would not be distracted by the outside world. (Seven Samurai, for example, was written in this fashion.) Often they all (except Oguni, who acted as “referee”) would work on exactly the same pages of the script, and Kurosawa would choose the best-written version from the different drafts of each particular scene. This method was adopted “so that each contributor might function as a kind of foil, checking the dominance of any one person’s point-of-view.”
Kurosawa emphasized time and again that he understood that the foundation of good storytelling is a good story. He carried that out from the story start, all the way to the finish on the editing room floor. What mattered to him was using his knowledge to tell the best story and that shows through his enduring movies.
As a writer his attention to detail is incredible. If we all were so focused in the course of our own work we’d all be hailed genius too.
#4 – Toshiro Mifune
Seven Samurai introduced me to the many wonderful qualities of Toshiro Mifune. I went on the hunt him down in Throne of Blood, Rashomon, The Samurai Trilogy and High and Low. He impressed me with his colossal passion and his ability to portray a man of honor who is gruff and coarse but no less noble. His ability to harness emotion on his face and in his movements is second to none. Much of my passion for Korean actor Lee Min-ho is his uncanny emotional resemblance to Mifune’s abilities.
Unfortunately Kurosawa and Mifune had a falling out over money troubles during Red Beard. Despite this both men were aware that their best work was made together and I’d say can be attributed to their equally strong passion for their work.
Of Akira Kurosawa, Mifune said,“I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him”. Enough said.
And Akira Kurosawa, on Mifune in his “Something Like an Autobiography”: “Mifune had a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film world. It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three. The speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor. And yet with all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities.”
No one can say it better than Kurosawa what made Mifune so powerful. As a writer, movie lover and Toshiro Mifune fangirl all I can say is wow. Wow!
Yes, I need to work on filling in the blanks of my film history (and I am, see my Blindspot this month here). Still, it’s safe to say that these four deserve accolades for their many contributions to the film industry. I know they inspire me and my love for film. Can’t you envision them on a movie Mt. Rushmore? I certainly can.