John Ford: We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that a director is an artist, each film a carefully chiseled jewel. That’s a romanticized view, but if we’re talking the Golden Age of Hollywood, it also simply isn’t true. Most directors were craftsmen who had little artistic control and who, if they started in the silent era, cranked out dozens of films. Ford made 146 of them, and though several are masterpieces, several are clunkers, and the rest vary in quality. The same could be said of Capra, Borzage, Wellman, Cukor and many others. “Nobody watches the bad stuff,” a friend said. Although there are plenty of good, even great, ones nobody watches either.
Richard Fleischer: The son of animator Max Fleischer worked all over the place: noirs (The Narrow Margin), boy’s pictures (The Vikings), fantasy (Conan the Destroyer) and calm portraits of serial killers (Compulsion). He could make the dreadful Doctor Dolittle, then the proto-Zodiac docudrama The Boston Strangler; the same year he contributed to the bloated war picture Tora! Tora! Tora! he made the chillingly intimate 10 Rillington Place . His films are great (Violent Saturday), awful (Red Sonja) and insane (Mandingo).
John Boorman: Somehow the Dave Clark 5 movie Catch Us If You Can, Deliverance, Zardoz, The Exorcist II, Hope and Glory and Where the Heart Is are all by the same person.
Clint Eastwood: A friend postulates the reason the 35 films directed by Eastwood vary violently in quality is because he simply can’t read scripts. That would explain The Eiger Sanction, The Gauntlet, The Rookie, True Crime, Space Cowboys and Hereafter—stupid films made tolerable, if at all, through hands that are always, no matter the content, sure.
Spike Lee: There’s a price to pay for Spike Lee’s genius: In order to get to singularly great ideas he has to plow through many singularly awful ideas. Hence films like Jungle Fever, which are by turns brilliant stupid, acutely observed and reckless, and which could only be made by one person.
Gus Van Sant: Experimental filmmaker or middlebrow hack? How about both? Just not at the same time. Guess which one his Harold and Maude ripoff Restless is.
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely