Lost in the shuffle: 10 important under appreciated directors

by st-shot | created - 05 Jan 2011 | updated - 15 Feb 2011 | Public

(no particular order )

1. Georges Méliès

Director | Le royaume des fées

Georges Méliès was a French illusionist and film director famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest days of cinema.

Méliès was an especially prolific innovator in the use of special effects, popularizing such techniques as substitution splices, multiple exposures, ...

The father of the sci-fi film Melies made the first narrative films as well as invent the fade, dissolve, pixilation and more than likely the first to color tint his films. Being the first he had an astounding eye for far out compositions as well as an engaging sense of humor. It seems more than plausible that the first visual moving story teller would be a sleight of hand magician.

2. Edwin S. Porter

Director | The White Pearl

In the late 1890s Porter worked as both a projectionist and mechanic, eventually becoming director and cameraman for the Edison Manufacturing Company. Influenced by both the "Brighton school" and the story films of Georges Méliès, Porter went on to make important shorts such as Life of an American ...

Porter is known mostly for making The Great Train Robbery but he also displayed a talent for comedy and socially conscious work as well. Overshadowed by Edison and Griffith he deserves more credit and discussion as a film pioneer than he is given.

3. Robert Siodmak

Director | Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam

The director Robert Siodmak (which he insisted, be pronounced 'See-odd-mack') was a masterful film maker who successfully blended the techniques of German Expressionism with contemporary styles of American film, particularly film noir, in the process creating a handful of moody, sometimes chilling,...

Among noir directors (The Killers, Cry of the City, Criss Cross) the best at telling his story visually. In addition to graceful camera movement a master of lighting as well in which he combined both to make even his more mediocre work (The Great Sinner,The File on Thelma Jordan) if nothing else fascinating to look at. While his best side was the dark, The Crimson Pirate showed he was more than capable of branching out into the daylight with distinction.

4. Otto Preminger

Director | Anatomy of a Murder

Otto Ludwig Preminger was born in Wiznitz, Bukovina, Austria-Hungary. His father was a prosecutor, and Otto originally intended to follow his father into a law career; however, he fell in love with the theater and became a stage director. He directed his first film in 1931, and came to the US in ...

Preminger is primarily known for the provocative topics ( The Man with the Golden Arm, The Moon is Blue, Anatomy of a Murder) he addressed in his films but it is his mastery of film syntax that sets him apart from others. Few if any (especially in these sloppy days) had his talent at maintaining pace in long takes by way of judicious camera movement (Laura, Fallen Angel, Where the Sidewalk Ends) to tell his story. More subtle but just as effective in this way than Hitchcock it may be the reason he's given little credit.

5. Ken Russell

Director | The Devils

Ken Russell tried several professions, before choosing to become a film director. He was a still photographer, a dancer and even served in the army, but it was film that was to be Mr. Russell's destiny. He began by making several short films, and those paved the way for his brilliant television ...

Master of the warped biography (Mahler, The Music Lovers, Listomania) audacious visualist (The Devils, Women in Love) and iconoclast Russell was doing superior and more original work than Kubrick in the mid 70s with an edgier approach and an uncanny ability to fit composers works to to his mise en scene as well as their state of mind. On this side of the pond he made a trio ( Altered States, Valentino, Crimes of Passion) of fine films before his talent flagged and while he could sometimes run a fine line between brilliant and tasteless he was never boring.

6. Michael Curtiz

Director | Casablanca

Curtiz began acting in and then directing films in his native Hungary in 1912. After WWI, he continued his filmmaking career in Austria and Germany and into the early 1920s when he directed films in other countries in Europe. Moving to the US in 1926, he started making films in Hollywood for Warner...

Curtiz's name is attached to an armful of classics Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca) as well as providing quality work in a variety of genres ( Angel's with Dirty Faces, Elizabeth and Essex, Mildred Pierce) that were well crafted and lacking in self indulgence. One could argue that he was more a part of the Warner's assembly line than artist but his name turns up more often on the studios best work in it's finest period than any other director.

7. King Vidor

Director | The Big Parade

King Vidor was born on February 8, 1894 in Galveston, Texas, USA as King Wallis Vidor. He was a director and writer, known for The Big Parade (1925), War and Peace (1956) and Hallelujah (1929). He was married to Vidor, Elizabeth Hill, Eleanor Boardman and Florence Vidor. He died on November 1, 1982...

Along with Murnau I sometimes wish the transition from silent to sound had lasted a little longer for Vidor (The Big Parade, The Crowd, Bardelys the Magnificent) whose grand compositions were visual feasts to behold. With the advent of sound though he didn't skip a beat and Street Scene remains one of the best examples of the early medium sound as well as the courageous and controversial Halleluah and Our Daily Bread. There was a string (Stella Dallas, The Citadel, Northwest Passage) of impressive late 30s works that displayed his total command of sound and image with not much to offer after 1940 but he remains one of only a handful of directors that smoothly transitioned from silent to sound with no discernible loss in creativity.

8. Anthony Mann

Director | El Cid

Anthony Mann was born on June 30, 1906 in San Diego, California, USA as Emil Anton Bundesmann. He was a director and producer, known for El Cid (1961), Men in War (1957) and The Glenn Miller Story (1954). He was married to Anna; 1 child Nicholas Anthony Mann, Sara Montiel and Mildred Mann. He died ...

Mann excelled in both noir (Railroaded, T-Men, Side Street, Border Incident) and westerns (The Naked Spur, Winchester 73, Bend of the River) that held their own with Ford. His work was gritty and held a dark view of mankind bringing both complexity and ambiguity to the action and intentions of his protagonists with minimal sentimentality and a stunning pictorial style.

9. Samuel Fuller

Writer | The Steel Helmet

At age 17, Samuel Fuller was the youngest reporter ever to be in charge of the events section of the New York Journal. After having participated in the European battle theater in World War II, he directed some minor action productions for which he mostly wrote the scripts himself and which he also ...

Fuller is admirable for his independent ideas as well as his go it alone work offending both the right and the left with his worldly take on things, so he must be doing something right. He showed he was capable of making quality studio work with Pick-Up on South Street but it is his independent body of work (Steel Helmet, House of Bamboo, China Gate, Forty Guns, Shock Corridor ) that he pieced together on shoestring budgets and achieved maximum impact with that truly impress.

10. Nicholas Ray

Director | Rebel Without a Cause

Nicholas Ray was born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle in 1911, in small-town Galesville, Wisconsin, to Lena (Toppen) and Raymond Joseph Kienzle, a contractor and builder. He was of German and Norwegian descent. Ray's early experience with film came with some radio broadcasting in high school. He left the ...

Before he imploded making epics ( King of Kings, 55 Days at Peking ) Ray directed a variety of highly interesting and offbeat renderings of poetic (They Live by Night, Rebel Without a Cause ) and disturbing (In a Lonely Place, On Dangerous Ground, Bigger than Life ) films dealing with desperate and conflicted loners that may well have influenced the following generation of rebellious filmmakers. When you add to that one of the strangest, novel and esoteric westerns (Johnny Guitar ) in film history there can be little argument about Ray's provocative and original style being as far outside the mainstream (Hollywood) as any while still swimming in the middle of it.