Famous Movie Directors: Films & Styles

Instructor: Benjamin Olson
This lesson will detail the movies and styles of several different famous movie directors from three different countries: Germany, Japan, and the United States. The critical response to these movie directors will be discussed and the overall influence of each director will be considered.

Movie Directors, Style, and Taste

Who is your favorite movie director? The answer a person gives to this question may say quite a bit about their artistic tastes and personal sensibilities. If your answer is Dario Argento, your taste for surreal Italian horror films may suggest a vivid imagination and willingness to follow a filmmaker wherever they may lead. If your answer is John Ford, your taste for classic Americana may suggest a nostalgic fascination with American history. Whatever your answer, there are too many famous, distinctive movie directors in the history of cinema for us to possibly name them all here. For the purposes of this lesson, we will be discussing two different movie directors from three of the most celebrated national cinemas.

German Movie Directors

Germany has been an influential and prolific voice in the world of moviemaking from the very beginning of the movie industry.

the Nibelungen, 1924

No film director from Germany (or anywhere else for that matter) has been more valorized than Fritz Lang. Highly influential in both the school of expressionism and in the early stylistic development of film noir, Lang remains one of the most deeply important movie directors of all time. Films such as The Nibelungen (1924) and Metropolis (1927) are representative of German expressionism, which stressed inner emotion and stylized visual representations. After fleeing his homeland for the United States when the Nazis came to power, Lang excelled at the burgeoning genre of film noir with films like Scarlet Street (1945) and The Big Heat (1953). Film noir tends to focus on the paranoia of its protagonists, moral uncertainty, and crime-oriented plots.

Leni Riefenstahl was a very different type of German movie director with a very different legacy compared to Lang. Riefenstahl was one of the very few female film directors in the pre-World War II era and is remembered primarily as a Nazi propagandist. Her technically innovative and beautiful films are regarded as classics today, in spite of their Nazi-worshiping subject matter. Her most famous and notorious film is certainly Triumph of the Will (1935), a propaganda documentary about the 1934 Nazi rally in Nuremberg. After the war Riefenstahl denounced the Nazi regime, but was indelibly connected with Nazism for the rest of her life.

Japanese Movie Directors

Akira Kurosawa was certainly the most famous and celebrated Japanese movie director of the 20th century. In the chaos of post-war Japan, Kurosawa made films that resonated with Japan's past, while engaging with film genres and writers from Europe and the United States. Seven Samurai (1954) is Kurosawa's most well-known film. Set in Medieval Japan but heavily influenced by American westerns, Seven Samurai bridged the gap between Japanese history and modern movies. In addition to movie genres, Kurosawa also adapted plays by Shakespeare and Gorky to a Japanese context, Throne of Blood (1957) and The Lower Depths (1957) respectively.

Hayao Miyazaki is the most internationally recognized director of Japanese animated movies. Miyazaki co-founded the influential movie studio Studio Ghibli. His most beloved movies like My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001) are deeply indebted to Shinto and Japanese folklore. Miyazaki's drawings, characters, and stories have become icons of contemporary Japanese popular culture around the world.

American Movie Directors

The United States is home to the most famous and prolific film industry in the world. There are far too many famous American movie directors to name here, so we will concentrate on two movie directors that have particular relevance today, Sophia Coppola and David Lynch.

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