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The Essential Directors Book Review

“The Essential Directors” showcases the filmmakers that changed cinema.

“The Essential Directors” kicks off with forewords by director Peter Bogdanovich (who is also spotlighted here) and TCM host Jacqueline Stewart along with an intro by author Sloan De Forest. After that the book covers 56 directors divided by era- silent films, 30’s sound studio era, the 40’s, the 50’s, the 60’s, and the 70’s auteurs. There are no filmmakers who were active in the 80’s and beyond so don’t expect to see Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro, Spike Lee or Kathryn Bigelow. Each director entry is accompanied by a brief history of their career and life, the years the director was active, successes, must-see movies from their filmographies and key scenes to watch from certain films. Expect to see plenty of stills and behind-the-scenes photos as well. The book concludes with a bibliography, acknowledgments and index.

In the past TCM presents have covered movies of specific genres as well as actors and actresses. This time around “The Essential Directors” is all about the influential filmmakers who were pioneers in their craft. Of course, all of the expected masters are touched upon here ala Orson Welles, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Capra, and Billy Wilder, but thankfully, a lot of underrated visionaries like Robert Wise, Elaine May, and Fred Zinemann also get the attention they deserve. I was especially happy to see George Lucas and the ever underrated Michael Curtiz getting their own spotlights as well.

In terms of the book’s content, there’s a ton of great material within these pages. Not only do you get quality movie recommendations (shoutout to “The Sea Wolf” getting some love), but there’s a ton of fascinating history such as Ida Lupino being the lone woman in the Director’s Guild at one point, Sidney Lumet being an actor on Broadway, and Stanley Kubrick working with NASA upon doing research for “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Now, you might be thinking, what about international directors, female directors and directors of color? This is where I take issue with the book. Throughout the book there are sidebars devoted to silent pioneers (George Melies), German Expressionists (F.W. Murnau), Studio System Stalwarts, Film Noir directors, Powell and Pressburger, Neorealist directors (Vittorio De Sica), International Influences (Akira Kurosawa), New Wave directors (Jean-Luc Godard), and Indie filmmakers (Roger Corman). Why filmmakers like Francois Truffaut, Melvin Van Peebles, or Ingmar Bergman are demoted to sidebars, I have no idea. They should have had their own pages. Likewise, there are only 4 female directors (Ida Lupino, Elaine May, Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner) and one black filmmaker (Oscar Micheaux) mentioned in the 56. Yes, there’s more diversity in the sidebars, but again, why just put these icons in the sidebars when they deserve their own entry? It’s a strange choice to be sure especially when so many in the sidebars are much more “essential” than those in the 56. Perhaps a sequel will rectify this?

November 28, 2021 - Posted by | Book review | , , , , , , , ,

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