I have seen most of the movies (all of the ones that I could get my hands on in a small town in Oregon) that you have ever made, including The Cars that Ate Paris, though I will admit, I did not understand it. You have my parents to thank for me being a lifelong fan. I grew up watching your films before I even knew that they were yours. These were: The Truman Show, Green Card, and Witness. As I grew into my maturity and gradually became more conscious of the names of actors and directors, I began to seek out your films intentionally, without any parental aid (although they were always around to give counsel and advice with respect to which movie I should see next).
I’ll never forget watching The Last Wave for the first time. It was my decision to rent it from the video store although I knew little about it. I think it was the first Criterion Collection film that I had ever seen, but I was young (maybe a freshman in high school), and I hadn’t figured out what the Criterion Collection was. I had never seen another movie like it. I retain impressionistic memories of it, and at the time of viewing, it inspired one of my high school art projects. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the film, and I would love to revisit it. However, what I will never forget, even after specific shots fade from my memory, is the type of story that it is. It’s my favorite type, in fact. It’s an entertaining and suspenseful tale, but at the same time, it portrays a meaningful social topic- intercultural tensions within Australia. Another of my favorite filmmakers, Charlie Chaplin, always strove to create comedy that was also social commentary. I love this type of film.
Three things always strike me about your films: your use of music, your use of panning close-ups, (which I have always viewed as being particularly John Fordian), and your ability to tell a wide variety of stories while maintaining a style that is not distracting from the story.
Many of your films have unique and interesting scores, but the film score that has had a particularly indelible impact on my is that of Picnic at Hanging Rock. This was the movie that made me aware of your meticulous and well thought out use of music. The overall tone of the film was already fairly haunting because the story lent itself to mystery, and yet, before I watched this film, I never realized how foreboding a rock formation could actually be. Other directors might have relied on handheld camera techniques, a particular editing style, or even a somber, gritty, and cool color palette, but you used music to unsettle the audience. It was not that the music was scary or disturbing, but it provided just enough of a contrast to the warm diffused quality of the cinematography to be unexpected, and therefore thought-provoking. I saw an interview with you once, I think it may have been on the DVD for Gallipoli and you spoke about how important music is to your film making process. I was very excited to have my own thoughts about your films confirmed. As a sound design student learning about sound effects editing, it is easy to see how a sound designer might be secretly a bit disappointed with a directorial choice to use score over soundtrack, but were I a sound designer on one of your films, I know I would never need to worry. All of your sonic stylistic choices are for the best.
How do you choose material to direct? Your work encompasses a wide range of genre and subject matter, and yet, every time I see a preview for one of your films it is not a stretch to imagine you directing them. Some directors have a very clear auteur style, and while I have observed visual stylistic commonalities within your films, I always have the impression that the true characterization of your work, as an auteur filmmaker, is that the story is always paramount. I would seek to emulate this approach in my own films. I love how you straddle the line between an independent filmmaker and a big-budget studio filmmaker. You’ve made both type of movie, yet your studio films retain a sense of intimacy that is distinctive. Perhaps it is because your films rarely rely heavily on visual effects; this allows you to practice a classic style of film making that hearkens back to the best of old Hollywood-like Frank Capra.
It’s been three years since The Way Back came out, and I have sorely missed seeing your name up on the big screen. You’ve contributed so much to film making, and I feel so privileged to have been able to grow up watching your films (even if it was long after most of them had had their theatrical releases). Thank you for making movies, and I certainly hope there is a new film of yours to look forward to in the coming future.