Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino are holding onto the past, but everyone else has moved on
With archaic ideas about the future of movies, and streaming, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan are holding onto the past. Meanwhile, TV has created its own visionaries.
Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino have a lot in common. They are two of perhaps only half-a-dozen filmmakers working today - others would probably be Steven Spielberg and James Cameron - who can pull blockbuster crowds simply on the strength of their names, and the goodwill established by their past work. They are both champions of film, fierce critics of digital filmmaking, and staunch traditionalists.
Curiously though, they’re both united in their displeasure of online streaming.
Nolan recently had to send Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos a written apology after making harsh statements about the streaming giant, and the role it is playing in the future of cinema. You’d expect Tarantino to be the one mouthing off his opinions without a care in the world, but for the otherwise very collected Nolan to have to issue an apology, imagine how strongly he must have felt about the issue. Tarantino, meanwhile, has said (with a dollop of unmistakable pride) that he doesn’t have Netflix.
But as with their battle against digital cinema - most filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese and Roger Deakins, have admitted defeat - Nolan and Tarantino are swimming against the current as far as streaming is concerned.
One look at the sort of talent being pulled away from theatres and directly into our living rooms should indicate the massive shift that the industry has seen in recent years - a change that we must all accept.
In the span of three months, Netflix will have released films by mavericks such as Paul Greengrass, David Mackenzie, Alfonso Cuaron and the Coen Brothers, firmly establishing itself as a premiere destination for filmmakers who’ve tasted Oscars success.
But that’s not the point of this week’s discussion. The big philosophical hurdle to cross in this particular situation is this: TV has its own set of auteurs, most of whom are at par with any film director at the top of their game. We must understand that the mediums aren’t the same, and that these differences do not make one inferior to the other. TV affords certain luxuries, thanks to its less rigid structure and comparatively more relaxed pace. It takes a whole new set of skills to be able to tackle the challenges of long-form storytelling.
Which is what we’re going to talk about here. Several prominent directors have taken up the responsibility of helming every episode of a television show, thereby lending it a tonal uniformity. The most recent example of this is Amazon’s terrific Julia Roberts’ psychological thriller, Homecoming. Each of its 10 episodes has been directed by Sam Esmail, one of television’s most visionary voices, and crucially, someone who almost exclusively operates inside the medium.
Here are five other filmmakers who’ve directed entire seasons of shows
Demange was one of the names in contention for the James Bond gig, before Danny Boyle was finalised as director of Bond 25. Boyle eventually left, and was replaced by one of the flagbearers of auteur-driven television, Cary Joji Fukunaga. We’ll talk about Fukunaga shortly, but please take this as your cue to watch Demange’s brilliantly thrilling work on shows such as Dead Set (which has the added attraction of having been written by Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker) and Top Boy (a British crime drama with a heart of stone).
The concept of a season-long movie, or a ten-hour movie, was floated many years ago, well before the Golden Age of TV began. Director David Lynch became one of the first big-time movie directors to make the move over to the small screen, and he managed it simply because he had the intelligence of knowing that it would offer him unique new challenges. Lynch returned to direct all 18 episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, for Showtime, in what many critics consider one of the defining works of TV - a seamless, sprawling story bound by the vision of one man.
Cary Joji Fukunaga
Fukunaga is the man we must credit for this revolution in television. His work on the first season of HBO’s True Detective truly set the ball rolling, and inspired many other networks to task filmmakers with directing full seasons of their shows. Fukunaga recently made a big return to TV with Netflix’s Maniac, after having taken two separate projects - The Alienist and Stephen King’s It - right till the end, only to depart due to creative differences.
Marting Scorsese recently blamed the cancellation of his ambitious HBO series Vinyl on his inability to direct every episode. He cited the example of Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, who brought his surreal style to HBO’s The Young Pope, starring Jude Law.
You don’t have to watch his work ever again if you don’t want to, but Louis CK’s FX show, Louie, is one of the greatest examples of auteur television. The fallen comedian - inarguably one of the most blazingly original talents in comedy, just like his precursor, the similarly disgraced Woody Allen, who did Amazon’s Crisis in Six Scenes - reached a deal with FX that would allow him absolute freedom to make the show that he wanted. A certain sum would be deposited into his bank account, and Louie would return months later, with an entire seasons’ worth of episodes under his arm. It’s unlikely that new episodes of Louie will be produced, but the first four seasons remain, in their perfection, a reminder of better times.
There are others, of course. Steven Soderbergh did two seasons of The Knick, an excellent show that combines Cronenbergian body horror with delicate period drama. Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap co-directed every episode of Sacred Games, blending their contrasting styles with a unique alchemy. Spike Lee revived She’s Gotta Have It for Netflix last year, while Baz Luhrmann’s expensive The Get Down fizzled out after a couple of seasons. In 2019, Danish genius Nicolas Winding Refn will unleash his Los Angeles crime series, Too Old to Die Young on Amazon.