'Great Directors' not so great

Angela Ismailos interviews Bernardo Bertolucci in "Great Directors," which is too generic and would work better as DVD extras.
Angela Ismailos interviews Bernardo Bertolucci in "Great Directors," which is too generic and would work better as DVD extras.
Posted: July 30, 2010

Angela Ismailos is an attractive blonde who suggests the young Melina Mercouri. She is front and center in Great Directors, her unstructured collection of interviews with filmmakers whose work is better known on the art-house circuit than at the multiplex.

From the relaxed and thoughtful responses of her subjects - who are Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, Liliana Cavani, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach, David Lynch, John Sayles, and Agnes Varda - Ismailos clearly has their respect.

Yet her generic questions about the politics, economics, and aesthetics of film yield predictably generic responses from her subjects.

Still, Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, The Queen), Sayles (Eight Men Out, Matewan, Lone Star), and Varda (Cleo From Five to Seven, Vagabond, The Gleaners and I) are such natural storytellers that their responses transcend Ismailos' questions.

Many of the interviews suffer from significant contextual gaps, probably because copyright issues limited the clips that Ismailos was permitted to use. For instance, Linklater (maker of the generation-defining Dazed and Confused, Slackers, Before Sunrise, and Before Sunset) is illustrated primarily by footage from Waking Life and The Newton Boys, movies that are neither his best-known nor best-loved.

For those unfamiliar with the work of these filmmakers - outside of hard-core cinephiles, who in America knows Breillat, Cavani, and Loach? - it would be hard to get a handle on them from their limited exposure here.

Ismailos' 10 mini-profiles might have been better used as DVD extras or a cablecast introduction to an individual director's movie. It's not too late.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/

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