Being life’s most imaginative and diverse manifestation, art has the power to tell the same story from countless and almost diametrically opposite angles. This couldn’t be truer when it comes to storytelling, and especially the one that takes place on the big screen. Over the years many works of art have reflected our world’s beauty and complexity in extraordinary ways, but few filmmakers have managed to create entire worlds of their own. Ones with signature themes, characters, rules, morals and vibes so tangible we can just sense upon minutes of watching. It’s safe to say that those masterpieces are products of strong collaborations between directors and scriptwriters, results of complete vision alignments, brainchildren only sweet creative harmony can bear. And how could it be any other way since many of those game-changing films are written and directed by the same person? Some of those versatile filmmakers have established styles so unique and distinctive their work has sparked artistic movements of their own. Having nourished a film from its very inception is what might be the core element of their trademark.
Burton’s personal experience with being a recluse has manifested itself in the endearing loneliness his quirky, poignant characters exude, making them so easy to root for…
Take Tim Burton, for example. Whether you like his work or not, you’ll rarely hear anyone refer to it as “just another Hollywood movie.” Even though he hasn’t written many of his films, the two movies – Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas, that embody everything we associate with his bizarre and moving art, were screened in his mind first. The frames within which those stories unfold share a darkly poetic and melancholic beauty. Before he appeared on the big screens, Edward first emerged in Burton’s young imagination as one of his only childhood friends. Burton’s personal experience with being a recluse has manifested itself in the endearing loneliness his quirky, poignant characters exude, making them so easy to root for, including the ones he crafted for Corpse Bride.
Few storytellers have such an unorthodox ability to add a comedic dash and likable swagger to even the most ruthless lowlifes and scumbags.
How about Tarantino? Some people worship him and see him as a genius, others just don’t get him, but pretty much everybody thinks he’s straight up crazy. One thing is for sure – the filmmaker is in a league of his own, one with a very different set of rules, or the lack thereof. Tarantino is not one to play on the safe side which is one of the hallmarks of his distinctive style and notorious film-appeal. It’s hard to imagine that another director would have been able to bring the same amount of edge, gore and self-parodic feel his stories are known for; not to mention come up with them in the first place. Tarantino’s characters are as fascinatingly dubious and nuanced as they get. Few storytellers have such an unorthodox ability to add a comedic dash and likable swagger to even the most ruthless lowlifes and scumbags. I strongly doubt that those unlikely, bad-ass gangsters, as well as the worlds they inhabit, would have been as captivating, memorable and complex if they were not brought all the way to screen by Tarantino and Tarantino alone.
There’s hardly any other filmmaker whose movies feel like looking through someone else’s eyes as much as the ones of Giuseppe Tornatore. His personality and palpable South Italian memories surface in the highly nostalgic tributes to his childhood that are his films.
You might say it’s just an Italian thing, but I’d say it’s more personal than that. There’s hardly any other filmmaker whose movies feel like looking through someone else’s eyes as much as the ones of Giuseppe Tornatore. His personality and palpable Southern Italian memories surface in the highly nostalgic tributes to his childhood that are his films. Even though he focuses on deeply human drama, his movies are filled with natural, undemanding humor that springs from real-life situations and characters’ peculiarities. But above all themes in Tornatore’s work, one feels the most personal and moving by far – the filmmaker’s idea of unadulterated, bitter-sweet and even comedic love perhaps only a child is capable of is almost painfully tangible for almost anyone who has ever been in love. And this isn’t just confined within the deep affection for a woman, even though in most cases it involves dreamy Italian beauties. His movies are inspired by love in all its forms – for a woman – Malena, a place – Baaria, the art of cinema – New Cinema Paradiso, or a lingering feeling one always tries to recreate, just like him and his characters. Films that personal and nuanced would be difficult to envision by two separate minds.
Other distinguishable filmmakers’ signature traits
There are many other filmmakers whose stamp is so clearly defined and consistent it would hardly work with someone else’s ink. Shyamalan takes a classic approach to psycho/mystery thrillers and adds a dash of existentialism that eludes to a bigger picture and provokes more than thrill in his viewers. The magic realism of Terry Gilliam, as he calls it himself, explores the mysterious, fascinating depths of the human mind where curiosity and the need to escape reality drives his characters. His signature surreal atmosphere and the looming, out-of-order, trippy feeling are the results of both script and filming techniques which are always in perfect sync. I wouldn’t even try to explain what David Lynch’s work is all about, but I can’t imagine how another director would have been able to recreate his scripts or write them in the first place. The world of David Lynch is too complex and chaotic for two main creatives to inhabit.
In fact, I believe that’s the case with a lot of the most distinguishable and characteristic filmmakers of our time.
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