Epic Filmmakers

As films became more commonplace in the 1900s, and as the public began to enjoy them more and more, the simple viewing of a short film of reality became passé. Audiences developed a voracious appetite for the medium and wanted to see bigger and better films. It fell upon the early filmmakers to forge a path into this new world. Some made changes that would alter the face of filmmaking altogether, and they continue to do so to this day with style and panache.

Since the beginning of the Hollywood era, certain producers and directors have created movies so monumental that they cannot be forgotten. Many of these filmmakers have developed directing styles or innovative techniques that have changed the face of movies. They created films that for one reason or another have become legendary. They are the epic filmmakers whom we can never forget.

Orson Welles

Orson Welles was an actor, writer, producer, and director who helped usher in the modern era of filmmaking. Prior to his film activities, Welles was a popular radio star, teaming up with John Houseman to produce The Mercury Theater on the Air. On Halloween night 1938, the Mercury Theater presentation of War of the Worlds frightened many listeners into believing that aliens were actually landing in New Jersey. This drama resulted in Welles being offered a three-picture deal with RKO Pictures in 1940. The first of those films was Citizen Kane.

Other notable Welles films include Journey into Fear, The Stranger, The Lady from Shanghai, and The Third Man. Welles never got along well with studio executives. Disillusioned with Hollywood, he spent the majority of his directorial career in Europe.

Citizen Kane was a commercial failure, but in making it Welles used many innovative techniques that helped change the face of filmmaking. It was the first film to use low camera angles as well as deep-focus photography, which allows objects both close and far away in a scene to be in sharp focus. The film also employed new makeup effects that enabled a young actor to portray an older man and still retain normal facial movement.

Cecil B. DeMille

Cecil B. DeMille's career spanned silent films to radio and eventually talkies. He's best known for his epic works, and for being a larger-than-life storyteller. DeMille had a reputation as a showman, and many of his movies featured huge casts of extras. His epic productions could never be made today, because the cost would be prohibitive.

During his illustrious career, DeMille produced and directed more than seventy feature films, and brought to the viewing audiences spectacular effects for the time, including train wrecks, the destruction of a pagan temple, and the parting of the Red Sea. The Ten Commandments, Cleopatra, The Crusades, Samson and Delilah, When Worlds Collide, The Greatest Show on Earth, and The War of the Worlds have all become legendary films. Cecil B. DeMille is the source of many Hollywood legends. During one film, he reportedly told a Paramount executive who was complaining that it would cost too much to film a battle scene with thousands of extras that he had the problem covered. “We'll use real bullets,” DeMille said.

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick was a controversial filmmaker who made several movies that became cult classics. His first critically acclaimed film was The Killing, which was noted for its use of nonlinear time. That film brought Kubrick to the attention of studio executives, and in 1957 he directed the United Artists production of Paths of Glory. Kubrick next filmed Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas, then went to England where he directed the controversial Lolita.

Kubrick would remain in England for the rest of his life, and from there directed the cult classics for which he has become best known, namely Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Kubrick chose many controversial themes for his movies, and was known for his innovative lighting and camera techniques. He also was known for his unrelenting demands on cast and crew.

David O. Selznick

David O. Selznick produced more than eighty films in his life, but is most famous for Gone with the Wind, which earned the Best Picture Oscar in 1939. Selznick was not known for being particularly easy to work with. Before its final release, Gone with the Wind went through three directors and fifteen scriptwriters. Selznick made history by becoming the first producer to win that honor two years in a row, when Rebecca became the Best Picture of 1940. Selznick worked for MGM, Paramount, and RKO studios, as well as his own Selznick International Pictures Studio. During his career, he signed such high-powered talent as Alfred Hitchcock, Joan Fontaine, Vivian Leigh, and Ingrid Bergman. Other notable productions of Selznick's include Spellbound, The Third Man, Duel in the Sun, and A Farewell to Arms.

Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa was a Japanese filmmaker whose films were more popular in the West than in his native country, mostly because of his adaptations of Western genres and authors including Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky. Kurosawa was a true film innovator, whose works served as the basis for many future filmmakers.

Kurosawa's films are known for showcasing his compassion for his characters and his admiration for nature. He supervised the editing of many of his movies, and wrote the screenplays for most of them. Among his works were Rashomon, Seven Samurai (which was remade in the United States as The Magnificent Seven), Yojimbo, The Hidden Fortress (the inspiration for George Lucas's Star Wars), Ran, and After the Rain. In 1989, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Oscar.

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