5 Gifted Directors who Lost the Plot
A.P. Atkinstein and Seth Goldwynn
Being a creative genius is hard. Attractive women don’t check out guys thinking, ‘I wonder if he could come up with a new idea that moves his chosen medium of expression forward in any significant way?’ Bankers don’t look at financial reports and say, “Oh, you’re an artist? Don’t worry about paying your mortgage this month, we got you covered, bro!” Nobody walks up to you in coffee shops and thanks you for your service, and dogs still try to hump your leg—perhaps even more so.
Creativity is hard to find: it’s a dash of talent with a shit-load of hard work slavered thickly on top. The lack of women finding you remotely attractive, money to pay the mortgage and gratitude, as well as the intensely unwanted attention from animals all takes its toll.
Here’s a list of 5 directors who started out as creative geniuses, and then let the cheese slide right off their cracker, flushing their careers down the toilet as they descended into an abyss where even dogs didn’t want to screw them.
Ridley Scott was a gifted film-maker who brought us Alien and Blade Runner. He’s hilarious to watch in interviews, coming across like that kid in school whose mummy loved him too much, and spends most of his time trying to convince the interviewer how awesome he is.
When he’s not busy making bad movies, he likes to very publicly shit all over films that are doing better than his, but has also branched out into blaming mobile phones for people not liking his terrible films.
He seems to be turning into Cartman from South Park, and is sliding quickly into a state of mental decline, desperately clawing for a little of that success he had when he was a younger man.
The tragedy here is that both Alien and Blade Runner were genre-defining slices of excellence. What people like Ridley Scott wilfully forget is that they didn’t make the films by themselves. Alien was largely defined by the incredible design work that culminated in Giger’s xenomorph, a solid script, an entire team of professional film-makers and a stellar cast. Blade Runner was likewise a culmination of elements coming together to create something that was more than the sum of its parts.
Ridley Scott has done what all creatives do when the genius-part retires before they’re done milking it, he’s begun revisiting old projects in a desperate attempt to relive those glory days, rather like a desperately old man dating a much younger woman.
The second tragedy here is that what he’s really doing is unravelling his own reputation and crapping on the movies that defined his success, undermining them to the audience that used to care about them.
It might be a stretch to call Mr Carpenter a genius, but he was certainly creative. The Thing set new standards in sci-fi horror, paving the way to movies like Alien. While not entirely original (like Alien), it did break new ground in terms of special-effects, and there was enough symbolism embedded in there to make you realise that someone really knew what they were doing.
John Carpenter had a reputation for taking a little and stretching it into a lot. Halloween was made on a budget so tight that the villainous slasher wore a mask that was, in reality, a Captain Kirk mask from the dollar-store painted white. He still made the film something that stood up as a serious piece of cinema that remains a defining light in the genre of ‘big men with machetes slowly walking after young people who are running, and still inexplicably managing to catch them.’
They Live is a brilliant social commentary for the first half of the film, although the second half looks a bit like a director found a box of prop-guns and cocaine, and just let the chips fall where they may.
And unfortunately, that more or less sums up the career of John Carpenter. A lower-end director that created a few truly inspiring classics, he ended up soiling his career in public by descending into making crap like Ghosts of Mars, probably the worst sci-fi movie ever made—apart from Disney Star-Wars.
We can only surmise that he carried on working too long, while his brain had known when to call it a day some time earlier.
M Night Charlatan
Mr Night turned out The Sixth Sense, a film with a dramatic and excellent twist. While a slightly flawed film, it did capture the imagination of the audience and set the career of M on fire.
He followed up with Unbreakable. I remember watching it, hoping that a little of the magic might transfer into this movie. It was likeable—he even forced Bruce Willis to act a few times—but it relied on a twist that felt forced and tacked-on. It didn’t define the story, it was just added to it, so the whole thing was slightly unsatisfying. OK, no big deal, we’ll see what happens next, I thought.
Well, what happened was M Night Charlatan kept clutching at the idea that every film he made had to have some huge, dramatic twist, with each twist getting less huge and accordingly less dramatic.
Eventually he developed a reputation as a B-movie director who got lucky a few times and worked hard to show people they were probably right about that.
As his movies declined in quality, studios stepped back and the budgets accordingly waned. His films looked ever-more desperate and garnered increasingly less interest.
The tragedy here is that it wasn’t the twists that set him on his path: The Sixth Sense was more than just a bait-and-switch reveal. It had heart, it had a story with human interest and emotion, and it rose above the level of a cheap shocker.
He forgot all of that and became known as the ‘Twist-guy’ and then eventually, wasn’t really known by audiences at all.
No list of fallen heroes would be complete without including the mighty Icarus of lunatic film-makers, George Lucas.
Mr Lucas was behind the creation of what is arguably the most influential science-fiction movies of modern times. He assembled a group of very talented young people with fresh new ideas, and then kinda took all those ideas and sorta decided he owned them. The result of all that was a spectacular trilogy of movies that were universally beloved, and a director that universally wasn’t.
George tinkered with them over the years that followed, releasing various unwanted versions that sold just well enough to keep him well fed. But, finally, he ran out of patience and demanded we must all go and watch his prequels.
We were all fine with that, a little wary of prequels, but happy that new films were coming. Sadly, George had allowed his success to go to his head. While nobody would argue that he is a fantastic producer and project manager, capable of bringing together the talents of a gifted team, he was now going to prove to everyone he was a genius director and writer too.
It didn’t quite work. It quite spectacularly didn’t quite work.
People disliked the prequels to such a degree that George sold the property to Disney in a fit of rage to show those ‘toxic’ fanboys who was really the boss, or something.
Disney did what Disney does and the rest is history.
George Lucas released various other films that nobody has heard of because his formula only works when he takes a back seat, and apparently the further back the better.
Disney did what Disney does and ran the franchise into the ground, but kept suggesting they could save it by bringing back George Lucas, the man who took the pooch and gave it a really robust screwing.
And Americans wonder why they have a reputation of not understanding the concept of irony.
What could be considered more brave these days than declaring yourself transgender by simply wearing a wig, just to get some attention when people have largely lost interest in you? Who cares if it undermines the identity crisis’ of real people who are struggling with genuine mental and emotional issues…
They exploded into public interest with The Matrix, a movie that slowly cemented itself as a cult classic that slipped into the mainstream. The Matrix was a flawed movie, based on science that only worked in the fevered imagination of the cinematic universe it existed in.
It seemed to be based on an imaginative and original concept, at least if you didn’t watch Dark City that was shot in the same studio on some of the same sets, just before The Matrix was made. In any case, it worked, blending high concepts with ‘magic-touch’ martial arts action.
But then it all went wrong!
The sequels were terrible, and were packed with dialogue that mocked the audience, warning them that they wouldn’t understand what was happening because they weren’t clever enough.
They were clever enough—they knew exactly what was happening…
Their other films were increasingly terrible. They made a version of Speed Racer that successfully failed, and a sci-fi about a princess and her dog-boy that had some bees in it. They failed in a way so spectacular that John Carpenter probably called them up for advice.
They demanded attention but the public didn’t buy it.
Eventually they did what people like this always do, they dug up the corpse of their previous works and tried rehashing it into a new stage of an already dead future.
My guess is that the new Matrix film will only serve to crap on everyone who loved the first one and will hammer another nail into the coffin-lid of their careers, because, it’s a firmly established format and this is what always happens.
These directors got lucky by surrounding themselves with gifted people and then let their egos take over. The movies that established them weren’t made by just one person, it was the efforts of a team of gifted professionals, crew and cast that captured lightning in a bottle. When they forget that, the quality of their work inevitably begins to suffer and they always decline further. We then see a disconnect from reality as their films get worse and their egos demand a return of forgotten glory.
There will inevitably be a demand for attention, sometimes a new version of old classics might be released, sometimes a set of prequels will be announced or some other unexpected act will happen to drive publicity. What it never is, is an announcement that they’re interested in the narrative and want to do something that respects the audience.
Eventually they’ll just rehash their old work and then—to quote George Lucas—their failure is complete.
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