Do great directors lose it?

Last updated 11:52 14/09/2012

Do great directors lose it when they get old? I ask this question because it was my misfortune this week to endure Oliver Stone's latest delivery of horse manure.

Savages is a film to be avoided this weekend. Whatever you think of Oliver Stone's unique take on the world, there is no denying he had a hot streak in the 1980s and 90s, electrifying Hollywood with movies that were discussed more than they were watched. Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Natural Born Killers and The Doors. Each sparked its own little firestorm of debate and set the pop culture agenda of the moment. Sure, Stone was full of nonsense, but it was fun to watch the crazy fireworks of his mind.

His funhouse world was full of conspiracy theories, spiritual native Americans, anger and monstrous greed. Horse manure had never been such fun.

The Onion film critic Nathan Rabin perfectly summed up Oliver Stone with this sentence:

"There comes a moment in every cinephile's intellectual and creative development when he or she comes to realise that Oliver Stone is full of s**t.''

This is true, but at least Stone's films were fun to watch during his hot streak. Now, they are liefeless and glib monstrosities. He appears to have lost his firebrand touch.

Which brings me back to my original question - do great directors lose it when they get old?

Is Sickboy from Trainspotting correct with his theory that "we all get old, we canna hack it anymore and that's it''.

Here's a short refresher of his unique world view:

Sickboy's theory pertains more to pop and rock music, which has a preoccupation with youth, but I think it can be applied to directors.

Oliver Stone is one of many directors who have lost it with age. John Carpenter hasn't made a decent film in years, Orson Welles could never sustain the promise of his debut and Francis Ford Coppola doesn't seem to care anymore. It's sad and scary to witness, but you always hope that one day they will return to blistering form. There is always hope.

And it is a reasonable hope. There are countless directors who have excelled in later life. Film is kinder to age than music. 

Woody Allen is still making great films, Clint Eastwood has enjoyed a remarkable late period, John Wayne made his most iconic films later in life, along with many greats of the classical Hollywood era.

What we are seeing here is two different types of genius at work. Malcolm Gladwell, a brilliant writer and thinker, wrote this piece for The New Yorker detailing two types of genius. There is the genius that comes fully formed, straight out of the box, like the writer whose debut novel is an instant classic. Then there are those that slowly strive their way to genius, like the writer who endures rejections and failed novels before finally nailing it in later life.

So, thankfully, Sickboy is only half right. Some directors burn brightly for a short time, while others slow-burn and flame into life in their later years. Either way, we win because we get to watch the films they make at the height of their genius.

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Lanthanide   #1   12:05 pm Sep 14 2012

Ridley Scott.

button   #2   12:06 pm Sep 14 2012

So exactly what is so bad about Savages? I was planning on seeing it, but now may rethink this...

Chris   #3   12:08 pm Sep 14 2012

Saw this movie last night and wanted to walk out. Cringe-worthy, mind-numbing, painful and pointless.

It's a shame because I love some of his previous films (JFK & Born on the Fourth particularly).

Editing was all over the place. Dialogue was unbelievably bad - "he has wargasms". Acting was dodgy.. villians were campy. Nothing anyone did made any sense. It was trying way too hard and failed miserably.

And then the ending. I thought it was all over and rejoiced and then had to endure a cheap rewind trick. Sorry that was a minor spoiler but I really don't think there's any way to spoil this lemon. One thing is for certain - you're certainly spoiled (and not in a good way) if you go watch this.

Stay. Away.

George   #4   12:35 pm Sep 14 2012

@Chris - I'm pretty sure Born on the Forth was a huge bomb when it first came out, so maybe his films get better retrospectively?

UilamOsa   #5   12:41 pm Sep 14 2012


Ridley Scott. M Night Shamalayan (if he ever had it). John Carpenter. Francis Ford Coppola. Steven Spielberg. Oliver Stone. Quentin Tarantino (although Inglorious Basterds was a return to form). Wes Craven. Steven Soderberg.

Craig Ranapia   #6   01:01 pm Sep 14 2012

"Woody Allen is still making great films."

I have to admit I seem to be the only person on Earth who found 'Midnight in Paris' utterly charmless, but Allen plugs away and is left alone to do it because his films are consistently (if modestly) profitable.

Sam   #7   01:14 pm Sep 14 2012

You pretty much answered your own question Charlie. Some lose it, some don't. We have to remember also that no matter how good a director you are, if the script (and other factors) isn't right then your doomed from the start. Totally agree with you on Woody Allen. Clint Eastwood on the other hand, not so much. Yes he's had a few absolute blinders (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima, Unforgiven etc) but Gran Torino, Hereafter and Invictus not so much. Love your blog, keep up the good work!

Jamie   #8   01:30 pm Sep 14 2012

George Lucas, whilst predominantly an Executive Producer, still warrants a mention here.

The Trickster   #9   01:43 pm Sep 14 2012

George #4 12:35pm

I saw a preview of this a while back - there is absolutely no way it'll be seen as a classic later on.

It is an unmitigated stinker with the worst performances I've probably ever seen.

Basically Stone dialed it in, along with Benicio and the rest of the cast.

I think I gave it a 2/10 when I left, and that was probably only because of one scene - one of the ones that didn't involve the worlds most annoying "poor little rich girl".

anmar   #10   02:00 pm Sep 14 2012

Francis Ford Coppolla, I dare you to watch his most recent Kilmer travesty

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