In the first two installments of this series, I discussed filmmakers who primarily worked, or work, in the United States. Part One, in August, covered Woody Allen, Frank Capra, Charles Chaplin, and Francis Ford Coppola. Part Two, in September, included John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and condensed coverage of 17 other directors. As promised, in this installment I talk about some of the world’s finest directors who have operated primarily outside North America.
As Hollywood’s artistic and commercial powers grew, many foreign directors ended up working in Hollywood. Power-hungry politicians are always afraid of artists, and many of America’s finest directors were refugees from fascism, communism, and other forms of dictatorship. So how to choose which directors go in what list? And how to choose who should be included, who left out?
By their very nature, lists of “the greatest” in any field are subjective and idiosyncratic, and my choices are not what is taught in film school. If you want to familiarize yourself with the conventional wisdom about the great directors and the great films, the best resource in the English language is the venerable poll published in Sight & Sound, the scholarly journal of the British Film Institute. Each decade since 1952, S&S has sent questionnaires to the world’s best film critics, asking them to name the Greatest Films of All Time. Later, they asked critics to name the Greatest Director, and also began asking directors to answer the two questions. Statisticians will see a few problems with such lists right away. First, if a director made just a handful of great movies, then his or her top film will get lots of votes; e.g., Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. If a director made dozens of classics, then each film will cannibalize votes for the other; e.g., John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks.