Archive for December 9th, 2019

Cinematic hat-tricks

Here’s an interesting one:

Before I get on to it, I’d like to acknowledge that the idea for this, such as it is, came from a Facebook post I saw recently from a friend. He knows who he is. I won’t embarrass him by naming him here – unless, of course, he specifically asks me to. I think he comes on to this blog from time to time. However, if this idea turns out to be a bad one, I take full responsibility for this upon myself.

Now that’s over with, let’s move on.

Can you name an instance of a film director who has made three great films in succession?

Of course, much depends on what you consider “great”. The example my friend gives is Carol Reed, who made, in succession, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol, and The Third Man – and I reckon all three deserve to be called great. But what other examples are there?

There are surprisingly few. Usually, looking through even the most distinguished of filmographies, great films – or, rather, films I would consider great – are interspersed with minor works. For instance, I know Satyajit Ray started his career with the justly renowned “Apu Trilogy”, and that between the second and third of these films, he made Jalsaghar (The Music Room), which is also a masterpiece. So that’s four great films in succession. But looking at the full filmography, I see that in between those films he also made Paras Pathar (The Philosopher’s Stone), which, to my mind, is a rather lacklustre comedy, so that spoils that one. I suppose one could go for Jalsaghar, Apur Sansar (the final instalment of the Apu Trilogy) and Devi, but the last of these, fine though it is, isn’t, perhaps, quite in the class of the others. (Ray continued to make great films right up to and including Ghare Baire (The Home and the World, 1984), but they are all interspersed with lesser works.

So, presumably having nothing better to do, I started looking up filmographies of some of my favourite directors, and I was surprised how rare these hat-tricks were. The directors of classic Hollywood are generally a bad bet: they often regarded themselves primarily as craftsmen rather than as artists – even when they were artists – and made whatever the studios asked them to make (John Ford, say, is a prime example of this). Even with the very individual Billy Wilder, it’s difficult to find three consecutive works of comparably high standard.

I suppose it must be difficult, in any art form, and especially in cinema where so much depends upon collaboration and upon budgeting and finances, to maintain high levels of creativity over a concentrated period. And I suppose many film-makers may quite deliberately make a lighter film in between the heavyweights. But this makes all the more impressive the various instances where film-makers have indeed made great films in close succession.

Take Ingmar Bergman, for instance. In the late 50s, he made Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries in close succession. And he repeated the trick between 1961 and 1963, he made the three films known as the “Faith Trilogy” (don’t ask me why: that’s what it says on the cover of my DVDs!) – Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Night, and The Silence. And Luis Buñuel finished his distinguished career with three of his finest films – Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie, Le fantôme de la liberté, and Cet obscur objet du désir.

And going back to my own favourite era of film-making – the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood – despite all the strictures imposed by the studio system, Preston Sturges, between 1941 and 1944, made  not three, but five consecutive films that I, for one, would place in the  top bracket – The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and Hail the  Conquering Hero.

But perhaps the most impressive uninterrupted sequence of masterpieces came from Robert Bresson, when, in succession, he made Les dames du bois de Boulogne, Journal d’un curé de campagne, Un condamné à mort s’est échappé, Pickpocket, Procès de Jeanne d’Arc, As hasard Balthazar, and Mouchette. I guess the only sequence of films to match that would be the seven films made by Andrei Tarkovsky.

I suppose Bresson went into the doldrums a bit after those seven films (in my opinion, at any rate), but, again in my opinion, he came back to form again with his last film, L’Argent: here, he took his spare, detached style about as far as it could possibly go, and came up with a film that haunts my mind. It is a film that does, I know, split opinions, but I doubt anyone can take serious issue with that extraordinary sequence of films he had made earlier in his career.

I’m sure there are many other sequences of uninterrupted creativity in film-making. So now it’s time to throw this open: what is your favourite cinematic hat-trick?