The job of a film director can be as taxing as it is revealing; putting what is often years of work into a piece of art so that it can be thrown to the dogs to be picked apart or disregarded. You’d think, knowing this themselves, that a commonality among directors would be a mutual respect and tendency to shy from disparaging one another. But, as they are want to do, competition, difference of opinion and out-and-out hostility flare up among directors, some of whom even raise an interesting point or two against their colleagues.
Orson Welles famously indulged in flaunting his colossal personality, and as a tastemaker was not afraid to ruffle feathers, stir pots, rain on parades or otherwise bring ruin upon his contemporaries. Often Welles’ judgements come down to perceived personality flaws contaminating a director’s work, a telling bit of projection on the part of the often autobiographically-driven director. For instance, his thoughts on Woody Allen: “I hate Woody Allen physically, I dislike that kind of man. He has the Chaplin Disease; that particular combination of arrogance and timidity sets my teeth on edge… Like all people with timid personalities his arrogance is unlimited. Anybody who speaks quietly and shrivels up in company is unbelievably arrogant. He acts shy, but he loves himself; a very tense situation. It’s people like me who have to carry on and pretend to be modest. To me, it’s the most embarrassing thing in the world – a man who presents himself at his worst to get laughs, in order to free himself from his hang-ups. Every thing he does on the screen is therapeutic.”
People have trouble with Woody Allen at the best of times, but Orson had a bone to pick with some of the most well-respected directors in film history, like Federico Fellini who showed “dangerous signs of being a superlative artist with little to say.” Even more sacrilegious, Alfred Hitchcock was sized up: “I’ve never understood the cult of Hitchcock. Particularly the late American movies. I don’t recognize the same director! Egotism and laziness. And they’re all lit like television shows. About the time he started to use colour, he stopped looking through the camera.” He then cites Rear Window as one of the worst movies he’s ever seen, and then Vertigo as being “worse” (it’s funny to consider that Vertigo dethroned Welles’ Citizen Kane for the top spot of the most recent Sight and Sound poll).
Ingmar Berman made his preference clear, slamming Welles: “For me he’s just a hoax. It’s empty. It’s not interesting. It’s dead. Citizen Kane, which I have a copy of — is all the critics’ darling, always at the top of every poll taken, but I think it’s a total bore. Above all, the performances are worthless. The amount of respect that movie’s got is absolutely unbelievable. I’ve never liked Welles as an actor, because he’s not really an actor. In Hollywood you have two categories, you talk about actors and personalities. Welles was an enormous personality, but when he plays Othello, everything goes down the drain, you see, that’s when he croaks. In my eyes he’s an infinitely overrated filmmaker.”
Bergman had a similar lack of patience for Jean-Luc Godard: “I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual, and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring… He’s made his films for the critics.”
Some filmmakers might contend that there’s room for a film to be a little slow, especially on the art-film circuit, so long as it delivers a thoughtful experience, though Werner Herzog doesn’t seem to think this applies to Godard either: “Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung-fu film.” Godard’s New Wave companion Francois Truffaut lays the tedium-baton at the feet of Michelangelo Antonioni: “Antonioni is the only important director I have nothing good to say about. He bores me; he’s so solemn and humorless.”
Plenty of these comments come down to a preference of style, and on the opposite end of the ‘artful bore to capitalist oaf scale’ seems to lie Steven Spielberg’s sentimental edge, which catches a lot of flak. “Spielberg isn’t a filmmaker, he’s a confectioner” Alex Cox surmises, while Jacques Rivette snuck in a dig at Spielberg on his way to belittle James Cameron (“Cameron isn’t evil, he’s not an asshole like Spielberg. He wants to be the new De Mille. Unfortunately, he can’t direct his way out of a paper bag.”) John Carpenter’s bone to pick involves Spielberg’s lack of control over his films, though he really has it in for Robert Altman. Never one to mince words, Carpenter labels Altman’s films “masturbatory” (and he hasn’t had much in the way of praise for fellow New Hollywood directors either).
The radical Ken Russell considers Sir Richard Attenborough tepid: “Sir Richard ‘I’m-going-to-attack-the-Establishment-fifty-years-after-it’s-dead’ Attenborough is guilty of caricature, a sense of righteous self-satisfaction, and repetition which all undermine the impact of the film.” A similar ostentatious quality in Paul Thomas Anderson’s three-hour epic of fate and coincidence Magnolia marks a warning for Kevin Smith; “I’ll never watch it again, but I will keep it. I’ll keep it right on my desk, as a constant reminder that a bloated sense of self-importance is the most unattractive quality in a person or their work.”
Then there are more general statements of contempt, like David Cronenberg when asked about M. Night Shyamalan: “I HATE that guy! Next question” or Clint Eastwood’s take on Spike Lee: “A guy like him should shut his face.” Being as outspoken as he is, Spike has incurred the wrath a good number of his fellow directors, mostly on matters that cut close. His feud with Quentin Tarantino has lasted too long to recount here, and his criticisms of fellow African American filmmakers’ depictions of black culture lend themselves to thoughtful responses like “Spike can go straight to hell! You can print that… Spike needs to shut the hell up!” from Tyler Perry.
Vincent Gallo is probably less famous for his work than for badmouthing filmmakers, and in such a fashion that we’ll not be publishing his comments here. If you feel like debasing yourself, you can look them up, or watch one of his films.
One of the main traits associated with being a commanding voice as a director is a certain amount of pomp, and apparently, a remarkable lack of self-awareness. Thankfully, most directors know to limit their criticisms tactfully.