Saturday 29 June 2019

Kurosawa on film editing

I’ve been reading Akira Kurosawa’s Something Like an Autobiography (translated by Audie E. Bock). It’s a very good book, an essential book if you like Kurosawa’s films. 
Here is what he says about editing: 
“I learned a mountain of things about editing from Yama-san, but I think the most vital among them is the fact that when you are editing, you must have the intelligence to look at your own work objectively. The film that Yama-san had laboured painfully to shoot he would cut to pieces as if he were a total masochist. He’d always come into the editing room with a joyful look on his face and say things like, ‘Kurosawa, I thought it over last night, and we can cut that so-and-so scene’, or ‘Kurosawa, I thought it over last night and I want you to cut the 1st half of such-and-such a scene’, ‘We can cut’ ‘I want you to cut!’, ‘Cut!’ Yama-san in the editing room was a bona-fide mass murderer. I even thought on occasion if we were going to cut so much, why did we have to shoot it all in the 1st place? I, too, had laboured painfully to shoot the film, so it was hard for me to scrap my own work. 
But, no matter how much work the director, the assistant director, the cameraman or the lighting technicians put into a film, the audience never knows. What is necessary is to show them something that is complete and has no excess. When you are shooting, of course, you film only what you believe is necessary. But very often you realise only after having shot it that you didn’t need it after all. You don’t need what you don’t need. Yet human nature wants to place value on things in direct proportion to the amount of labour that went into making them. In film editing, this natural inclination is the most dangerous of all attitudes. The art of the cinema has been called an art of time, but time used to no purpose cannot be called anything but wasted time. Among all the teachings of Yama-san on film editing, this is the greatest lesson.” 
Yama-san is Yamamoto Kajiro, a Japanese film director who is now mostly known as the mentor of Kurosawa. 
Kurosawa goes on to talk about Uma (Horses), “which I had co-scripted and which Yama-san had put entirely in my hands for cutting.” 
“There is one place in the story where a foal has been sold and the mare frantically searched for her baby. Completely crazed, she kicks down her stable door and tries to crawl under the paddock fence. I edited the sequence most diligently to show her expressions and actions in a dramatic way. 
Bu when the edited scene was run through a projector, the feeling didn’t come through at all. The mother horse’s sorrow and panic somehow stayed flat behind the screen. Yama-san had sat with me and watched the film as I was editing any number of times, but he never said a word. If he didn’t say ‘That’s good’, I knew it meant it was no good. I was at an impasse, and in my despair I finally begged his advice. He said ‘Kurosawa, the sequence isn’t drama. It’s mono-no-aware.’ Mono-no-aware, ‘sadness at the fleeting nature of things’, like the sweet, nostalgic sorrow of watching the cherry blossoms fall—when I heard this ancient poetic term, I was suddenly struck by enlightenment as if waking from a dream. ‘I understand!’ I exclaimed and set about completely re-editing the scene. 
I put together only the long shots. It became a series of glimpses of a tiny silhouette of the galloping mare, her mane and tail flying in the wind on a moonlit night. All that alone proved sufficient. Even without putting in any sound, it seemed to make you hear the pathetic whinnying of the mother horse and a mournful melody of woodwinds.” 
That’s a very interesting point.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Russian Ark: a one-shot film

Every review of Russian Ark starts with the same point: it is a 90-minute film (without credits) that comprises of a single unbroken shot.
The story is of an unnamed narrator (the camera), who wanders around Winter Palace in St Petersburg with a character called The European (meant to be Marquis de Custine), who is contemptuous of Russians and Russian culture. They wander around and in each room meet fictional and historical people from different periods of the city’s 300-year history.
Russian Ark, to me, is less of a film than a formal experiment and a challenge. It is impressive, especially in the 1st 5 or 10 minutes—at some point, the camera seems to fly above the orchestra and land on the seating area and then follow the character to another room. Filmmakers and anyone interested in the technical aspect should watch it. 

I’m glad I’ve seen it, but personally I don’t like it. As a viewer, I agree with Stanley Kauffmann “What is there intrinsically in the film that would grip us if it had been made--even excellently made--in the usual edited manner? […] We sample a lot of scenes that in themselves have no cumulation, no self-contained point... Everything we see or hear engages us only as part of a directorial tour de force.” (source) As someone who loves 19th century Russian literature and has some interest in Russian history, I’m indifferent to the film—Russian Ark is not devoid of ideas, it may even have interesting points about Russian culture, but it didn’t have my interest beyond the making of the film itself.
As a filmmaker, I would say that Russian Ark is against everything I believe in, about cinema. 1st of all, I love editing—it was editing, or the power to cut and put together different shots to tell a story, that gave birth to cinema. Editing is the main strength of cinema, compared to theatre—the use of different shot sizes (ability to show things in detail—close-up, or in context—wide shot), juxtaposition of images/ ideas, manipulation of time, structure and the ability to restructure a story. A film is made 3 times—in the script, during the shoot, and on the editing table. 
The filmmakers of Russian Ark therefore deny the most interesting tool of cinema.
To make a feature film in a single unbroken shot is a fascinating task, but it is a challenge and an achievement for the crew rather than something for the audience. It is no more than a gimmick—an impressive one indeed, but still a gimmick. As I was watching the film, there was no interest in the story and ideas—all of my attention was for the technical aspect, especially when some image looked weird, probably because they reframed something in post-production or stabilised it and created a warped image.
In addition, I like a good frame. On this blog, for example, I have singled out the most interesting shots in Citizen Kane and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents. In Russian Ark, because the entire film is in a single shot and the camera is constantly moving, to follow The European and/or go around a room, there is hardly a single frame that looks good. Russian Ark is not cinematic.
I’m surprised when some people name Russian Ark among the most beautiful films they have seen. The film has a magnificent location, and gorgeous costumes. It’s more interesting when the film looks beautiful even though there’s nothing remarkable about the location. The Double Life of Veronique, for instance, has mediocre locations, but it’s one of the most visually beautiful films I have ever seen, thanks to the lighting and framing (and the charming actress). Stalker, which was filmed in desolate, ramshackle buildings and deserted factories, is breath-takingly beautiful 
Overall, Russian Ark is an impressive challenge, something I would not attempt myself. It’s worth watching for that alone. But honestly, it’s not cinematic.

Monday 17 June 2019

An art gallery and a feminist: A rant

1/ Yesterday I went to Manchester Art Gallery. Lovely gallery, with some great artworks. But 1 thing ruined the entire experience: The feminist revision. 

(Right click and open in new tab to see in full size). 
And more.
These notes were written by Anne Louise Kershaw. 
There is no enlightenment, no new information—everyone knows that women in the past didn’t have the same opportunities as men, we are talking about the art world centuries ago. How sad and pathetic are you that you’re looking at great art, and all you can think about is gender? This obsession with the identity of the artist shows an indifference to artistic merit and artistic quality. To be honest, people who don’t give a shit about art should stop talking about art and spouting nonsense. 
These notes don’t belong in an art gallery, at least not a serious one. Apart from the bitter tone, pointlessness, and irrelevance, it’s not even good writing—it’s casual, inarticulate, and carelessly phrased. 
People like Anne Louise Kershaw give feminism a bad name. 

2/ Sadly this way of thinking is not uncommon. Identity politics are now the norm. Society is full of people who talk about art, or even create art (or “art”), but don’t care about art. I mean, if you care more about social issues, intentions, and messages, you don’t really care about art. If you care more about the artist’s identity, background, and private life, you don’t really care about art. Does artistic quality not matter? Does talent not matter? Does vision not matter? 
To promote equality and diversity, you don’t have to attack the past and its achievements. 
To promote equality and diversity, you don’t have to wage war against dead white males. 
To promote equality and diversity, you don’t have to fill yourself with hatred and bitterness.
I’m sick of people who see everything through the lens of identity politics, and distort all to fit their agenda. I’m sick of people who like to categorise and label and divide. 
People should be seen as individuals, and art should be judged from the aesthetic point of view. 

Saturday 15 June 2019

The 2 Kieslowskis

If you’re familiar with Kieslowski’s career, you know there are 2 Kieslowskis: the Polish Kieslowski—realistic, social/political, grey, unglamorous (Blind Chance, Dekalog…), and the international Kieslowski—metaphysical, poetic, visually dazzling… (The Double Life of Veronique, the Three Colours trilogy). 
Marek Haltof talks about the turning point: 
“In his Polish- French co-productions […] the realistic, often uncomplimentary vision of Poland—a realm of drab landscapes populated by grey characters that are dwarfed by the political system—gives way to dazzling photography, as if taken from glossy illustrated journals. Individuals struggling with themselves replace earlier recognisable characters struggling with communist reality. The unglamorous female characters from Kieslowski’s previous films, often portrayed as narrow-minded and not understanding the aspirations of the male protagonists, are replaced by glamorous foreign characters. From being almost always on the margin of Kieslowski’s stories, and often not deserving of the viewer’s sympathy, they move to the centre of his films. They are young, beautiful and tirelessly dynamic.” 
I don’t agree with every single point. It’s true that women are on the margin of the story in Blind Chance and I don’t know about Kieslowski’s earlier films, but the 10 episodes of Dekalog are about stories of both men and women, and Kieslowski depicts both sexes with humanity and without judgment. The female characters in Dekalog exist as individuals, with their strengths and shortcomings, like the male ones.
However, the passage does explain well the differences between the 2 periods in Kieslowski’s career. He moves inward. The Double Life of Veronique is a film about feelings, and Three Colours: Blue is an internal film.  

Haltof also talks about the stylistic changes: 
“Unlike Kieslowski’s earlier works, his films made in the 1990s become visually refined to the point of being ornate. The camera does not reveal as in his early films, but intrudes, and calls attention to itself through symbolic, ‘unnatural’ use of colours, camera angles and lighting. The same can be said about Zbigniew Preisner’s music which sometimes takes over the films. Kieslowski’s change of direction can be described as follows: from functional to ‘expressionistic’ photography, from unobtrusive soundtrack to overwhelming musical score, from ordinary characters in everyday situations to literary characters set in a designer’s world, from the particular to the general, from outer to inner reality and from realism to ‘artiness’. A director of detailed realistic observations becomes a director of metaphysical experiences.” 
Is it just me, or does Haltof reveal himself to prefer the Polish period to the international period? 
First of all, Kieslowski’s Polish-French films are undeniably beautiful, especially The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colours: Blue are among the most beautiful films I have ever seen. But they are not beautiful in a superficial, empty, style-over-substance way—the cinematography is visually dazzling but it’s Kieslowski’s skills for visual storytelling, attention to details, and poetic sensibilities that I admire. The best example is the opening of Blue, in which he does not use words or anything lengthy but hints and suggests in close-ups and lets the audience piece together what’s going on. 
Secondly, if we exclude Three Colours: White (which is mostly set in Poland and different from the other international productions anyway), Kieslowski moves inward, exploring feelings such as loneliness, grief... so his style naturally has to change to fit it. People who prefer the realism of the Polish films may call it artiness, but he utilises lots of POV shots (which I would say do not call attention to themselves) and lots of music, because these films are internal and abstract, showing the main character’s inner world. In addition, The Double Life of Veronique and Blue are both about music. 
Thirdly, the “core” remains the same.  
Grazyna Stachowna, as quoted by Haltof, lists the motifs in the trilogy that are also in Kieslowski’s earlier films: 
“… blind chance, Van den Budenmayer, voyeurism and eavesdropping, an old woman with a bottle, the final cry of the protagonists, windows, beads made of glass, the 2-franc coin, loneliness, jealousy, humiliation, contempt, sex and suicide.” 
More importantly, Kieslowski, whether he’s dealing with social/political issues or private struggles, is still most of all interested in the individual. He’s interested in emotions, relationships, moral dilemmas, choices, and the different paths we may take. He’s interested in depicting and exploring people, as individuals, without judgment—he seeks to understand.


It is strange the way some directors have a clear turning point in their career. Fellini can be divided into early Fellini (neorealism) and late Fellini (Felliniesque—grotesque, dreamlike, cartoonish, heavily influence by Carl Jung). 8 ½ is the peak of his career, which stands apart and can’t be categorised this way, and the same might be said of La Dolce Vita, but before La Dolce Vita is early Fellini (The White Sheik, I vitelloni, La Strada, Il bidone, Nights of Cabiria…) and after 8 ½ is late Fellini (Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini Satyricon, Roma, Fellini’s Casanova, Amarcord, City of Women…). My favourite Fellini film is 8 ½, and generally I prefer early Fellini, apart from Amarcord
(Perhaps that means I’m not truly a Fellini fan). 
Another example is Zhang Yimou. Early Zhang Yimou (before Hero) is serious drama films, about socio-political issues in Chinese society. Some of his early films are masterpieces, such as Raise the Red Lantern and To Live, and I like or once liked very much some others such as Red Sorghum and Ju Dou. That Zhang Yimou is the great director in Chinese cinema. Since Hero, his career has taken a new turn—he not only turned to commercial cinema but also betrayed himself and sold his soul to the devil (by which I mean the Chinese communist party), attempting to rewrite history and making propaganda movies for the Chinese government. Since Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower, I have not seen anything else by Zhang Yimou. I despise him only less than Jackie Chan. However, because of his great talent, I might watch Shadow for curiosity, if I can find it. 
To go back to Kieslowski, he didn’t betray himself. I like both periods, for different reasons. And he’s great.

Friday 14 June 2019

The Double Life of Veronique: doubles and choices

I have always found it difficult to write about The Double Life of Veronique

The film is about 2 young women—Weronika in Poland and Veronique in France. They look alike (both played by Irene Jacob), though Weronika is more animated and passionate, and Veronique is more melancholy, with her head in the clouds. They have many things in common: both grow up with a single father; both sing and have beautiful voices; both have a heart condition; both rub their eyelids with a gold ring, and so on.  
They are not aware of each other till 1 day, Weronika happens to see Veronique on a trip. Soon after, Weronika dies. 
Reviews and essays usually say the basic premise of the film is that the 2 women are not aware of each other’s existence, but somehow Veronique “learns” from Weronika’s mistakes, like she is given a 2nd chance. Weronika prioritises singing above everything else, including her heart, and it kills her; Veronique gives up singing lessons.  
That’s not the way I see it. To me, The Double Life of Veronique, above all, is about a feeling—the feeling that maybe there is someone in the world who is just like me, like a lost twin, a double. Have you ever had that feeling? I have, which is why I have a bit of an obsession with doubles. It could be a warm thought—maybe I’m not alone. But at the same time it’s also discomforting—maybe I’m not unique, maybe I don’t really matter. 
At the same time, it should also be seen in the context of Kieslowski’s work. Kieslowski’s interested in chance, and the different paths one may take. In Blind Chance, 3 scenarios lead to 3 different lives and career paths. It could be that all 3 are the different possibilities. It could also be that the 3rd one is real, as the film begins with Witek screaming, and he thinks about the other lives he might have had if he had got involved in politics—perhaps that could have saved him. 
Later in Three Colours: Red, Kieslowski again tackles the theme of chance and different paths: a retired judge meets Valentine (also played by Irene Jacob), after years of disillusionment and cynicism, and wonders what may have happened if they had met 40 years earlier; but his life finds parallels in a young law student, and at the end of the film, the student meets Valentine. 

In The Double Life of Veronique, Kieslowski uses doubles and the idea of parallel existences (Weronika and Veronique) in order to play with the same theme—the 2 women are like the same person in different scenarios because of their different choices. 
See what Roger Ebert says: 
“Kieslowski almost never made a film about characters who lacked choices. Indeed, his films were usually about their choices, how they arrived at them, and the close connections they made or missed.
Most films make the unspoken assumption that their characters are defined by and limited to their plots. But lives are not about stories.
Stories are about lives. That is the difference between films for children and films for adults. Kieslowski celebrates intersecting timelines and lifelines, choices made and unmade. All his films ask why, since God gave us free will, movie directors go to such trouble to take it away.” 
Read the entire review. 
“Because he made most of his early work in Poland during the Cold War, and because his masterpiece "The Decalogue" consists of 10 one-hour films that do not fit easily on the multiplex conveyor belt, he has still not received the kind of recognition given those he deserves to be named with, like Bergman, Ozu, Fellini, Keaton and Bunuel. He is one of the filmmakers I would turn to for consolation if I learned I was dying, or to laugh with on finding I would live after all.” 
I’ve read Kieslowski on Kieslowski (edited by Danusia Stok) recently, and at the moment I’m reading The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski: Variations on Destiny and Chance by Marek Haltof. These books remind me of how much I love Kieslowski.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Sunday 9 June 2019

Blind Chance by Kieslowski

We follow a young man named Witek, after his father dies, he takes time off medical studies, and tries to catch a train—as he runs through the train station, he knocks the money off a woman and a man picks up a coin to buy a beer, and Witek’s behaviour towards the beer-drinking man would affect everything else. This is the concept of the film: Witek’s behaviour and whether or not he catches the train lead to 3 different scenarios, 3 different career paths, 3 different lives. 

If the concept sounds familiar to you, it’s because it has been used in later films such as Sliding Doors, Mr Nobody, and Run Lola Run, with some variations. Blind Chance most likely has inspired them. 
Kieslowski’s interested in chance—how many things in life are actually because of chance. Without giving everything away, in Blind Chance, Witek joins the communist party in the 1st scenario; joins the underground and becomes a religious anti-communist in the 2nd scenario; and in the 3rd scenario, goes back to become a doctor and chooses not to get involved in politics either way. Unlike Kieslowski’s later films, this one has lots of politics, so it helps to know about the political climate in Poland at the time (it’s made in 1981 but not released till 1987).  
The question is, are people that malleable? If people have objections to Blind Chance, it would be this point—are our political affiliations simply because of someone we meet somewhere? Do people not have a core set of values and beliefs? 
Now let’s look at Witek. He doesn’t become different people in the 3 scenarios. Note that in the 1st one, when he has to represent the communist party and go to talk to the underground group, he agrees with them (the anti-communists). In a communist country like Poland, people sometimes join the party not because of beliefs but because it’s convenient and an easy thing to do. It’s not like you live in the US nowadays—if you meet somebody, you join the Democrats, if you experience something else, you become a Republican; the situation in Poland was different, the communist party was the only one in power and if you joined, you could have convenience and some kind of protection.  
It should be noted too that at this point Witek has just lost his father, and is directionless, and right away he adopts another father figure and follows him. 
The 2nd scenario is also possible for someone like Witek. I know people in Vietnam, also a communist country, who for years lead simple lives and choose not to be involved in politics until something happens to them that pushes them to the other side. The scenarios in Kieslowski’s film are extreme, because the situation in communist Poland is extreme. If anything, I’m not really convinced that Witek becomes religious in the 2nd scenario, but at the same time I also know that many dissidents in Vietnam turn to God because of their helpless situations. 
Then we have the 3rd scenario, where he joins neither side and still gets caught up in it. In such a regime, you can’t afford to be apolitical—politics still gets to you. 
Blind Chance is a very good film, and a very interesting film. It forces you to think, are we who we are today because of our core values, or because of our experience—because of something that happened at the some point, thanks to chance? Perhaps if the something hadn’t happened, we might have followed a completely different path?

Friday 7 June 2019

Final thoughts on The Scarlet Letter

In an earlier blog post, I wrote that with my 21st century mindset, I couldn’t understand why Hester chose to stay in the town to be disgraced and mocked. But now I do.
Her decision to stay and wear the letter A openly on the chest is not a passive acceptance of the punishment, not even an admission of guilt—for she feels no shame for her transgression. It is a quiet defiance—she chooses to stay and bear it, instead of being driven away in humiliation. When the town decide she can remove the letter, she responds: 
“"It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off the badge," calmly replied Hester. "Were I worthy to be quit of it, it would fall away of its own nature, or be transformed into something that should speak a different purport."” (Ch.14) 
She doesn’t need their mercy or their forgiveness, because she doesn’t accept their charges in the 1st place. As Hester lives in solitude, away from society, she changes and grows, and no longer accepts the social rules—their moral codes mean nothing to her. In a way, she is freed. 
Arthur Dimmesdale, in contrast, can never be freed, except by death. He is too weak-willed and cowardly, too afraid of public exposure, with too much to lose. He may not be punished by the town, but he has his own kind of punishment, because of guilt and a keen awareness of his own hypocrisy and deceit. It is amusing that he is aware of his own hypocrisy, but doesn’t realise that his worst deed is not the fornication, but the fact that he leaves Hester (and their child) to be punished alone. 
Hester and Arthur “commit the same sin”, but they view it very differently, and afterwards live with it differently.  
The Scarlet Letter is a great book. I’ve finished reading it. Despite ideas floating around in popular culture, The Scarlet Letter is not an adultery novel. It’s not about sin either—less about sin than about the concept and idea of sin. Himadri would agree with the narrator that it’s a tale of human frailty and sorrow. I don’t disagree, but I think it is, above all, a book about symbolism and the (stupid) meanings that people attach to it.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

On Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies

I think every filmmaker should read this book. If you’re not a filmmaker but interested in his films, or interested in the making of a film, read it anyway. 
Sidney Lumet writes about all aspects of filmmaking, from the director’s point of view: choosing projects, working with writers (he’s not a writer), style, working with actors (how to get the best out of them), working with cinematographers (style, the look of the film, lens, filters…), working with the art department (style, colour scheme, architectural style, locations…), being on set, working with editors (pace, mood, tempo, rushes, rough cut…), working with composers and sound designers, working with timers (in the film age—now in the digital age, the equivalent are colourists), and working with the studio. 
In lucid prose, he writes about all aspects of filmmaking from pre-production to production to post-production, the myriad of possibilities a director has, and all the decisions a director has to make, with lots of invaluable insight and advice for young/aspiring filmmakers like me. Take this passage about editing: 
Image may contain: text
That is good advice. 
Earlier I was amused that both he and Tarkovsky wrote about cinema and directing but Tarkovsky’s book was called Sculpting in Time and Sidney Lumet’s was Making Movies. But the different titles also hint at their different approaches: Tarkovsky’s book is a thoughtful read, offering his thoughts on the art of cinema and the ideas behinds his own films, but Sidney Lumet’s book is more practical, and more useful. 
It’s also refreshing to read a book by a director who is not an auteur. He writes about everyone with respect and gratitude. Film is collaborative. That of course doesn’t mean that everyone in a film crew is equal, as some people seem to think in film schools. Sidney Lumet repeats throughout the book the phrase “making the same picture”, which refers to the director’s vision. 
Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that even though Sidney Lumet, throughout the book, writes with respect of actors and people in different departments of a film crew, you can tell that he doesn’t have warm feelings for studio and executives, especially in the final chapter, “The Studio”. He mentions that it helps, but also writes about the silliness of previews (early screenings for a small audience whilst a film is in late stage of post-production) and the lack of correlation between them and a financial success of a film. He writes, early in the chapter, that stars don’t make a film a hit, but later writes that studios push for stars anyway, and how it affects the budget of a film (not only the stars’ salaries but also their “limos, secretary, cook, trailer, makeup, hair, and clothes person”—“a lot of money that won’t wind up on the screen”). 
But that is the problem with cinema—it is an art, but also a business. 
Image may contain: text
Above all, Sidney Lumet says cinema is an art form, and: 
“Commercial success has no relationship to a good or bad picture. Good pictures become hits. Good pictures become flops. Bad pictures make money, bad pictures lose money. The fact is that no one really knows.” 
He says: 
Image may contain: text
And adds: 
“It’s the movies that are works of art that create this interest, even if they’re not on the 10-highest-grosses list too often.” 
This is a very good book.

Saturday 1 June 2019

Sidney Lumet’s rules for looking at rushes

To get it out of the way, rushes are raw footage from a day’s shooting. 

Sidney Lumet has a chapter titled “Rushes”, and mentions some of his rules for looking at rushes. This one stands out for me: 
“Don’t let the difficulty of actually achieving a shot make you think that the shot is good. In the finished movie, no one in the audience will know that it took 3 days to light or 10 people to move the camera, the walls, or whatever.” 
A short while ago, I read In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch, one of the best editors in the world, and he wrote something similar. This is a problem with directors sometimes when they look at footage, the problem of “seeing” beyond the frame—because a shot was so complicated and took so long to be completed, it’s difficult to cut it out of the film. That is why it’s useful to have an editor (who doesn’t come to set), so he has enough distance and detachment from all the troubles of shooting. 
Then Sidney Lumet says about the reverse: 
“Don’t let a technical failure destroy the shot for you. Obviously, any mechanical error endangers the reality of the movie. And those errors must be eliminated in the future. But you have to keep your eye on the dramatic impact of the shot. Is there life there? That’s what matters.”
This is a good point, and it’s already similar to my view. I’m a film student, we are all learning, so errors and imperfections are to be expected. We of course try to get everything as technically good as possible (after all we get graded on it), but if for some reason I have to choose, I’d rather sacrifice a bit of technical thing to prioritise emotion/ acting and the dramatic impact. For example, on a film we had lots of trouble with a scene, many things went wrong, 4 shots on the shot list were combined into 1 shot and we could only film it in 3 takes, I chose the best take, in which the actor was moving and the camera was also moving. Then we realised the boom was in shot, in a corner, when the camera was tilting up. To cut the boom out of shot, the editor changed the frame, cutting off the actor’s head. I said we couldn’t do that, I’d rather have boom in shot (a mistake) than cut off the actor’s head (the editor asked if I was sure—in the end, we tracked it and adjusted the frame as the camera moved, so we kept the boom out of shot but didn’t have to sacrifice anyone’s head).  
Another example, there’s an important scene. The shot I’m talking about is extremely important, because it’s the climax of the film. Excluding all the ones that didn’t work for various reasons, I had 3 “usable” takes—the 1st one was bad, the 2nd one was so-so, not great, and the 3rd one was best for dramatic impact but for whatever reason didn’t have sound. I went with the 3rd one, which didn’t have sound. Others were not sure, we did the best we could, it’s not perfect. But in the end, after the film was screened, nobody came to ask me if that shot was post-synced.

On Sidney Lumet (and other directors)

I’m reading Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies, which I think is a very good and enjoyable book, especially for aspiring film directors. 
Look at this: 
Image may contain: text that says "dialogue. Dialogue is not uncinematic. So many of movies of the adore are con- stant streams of dialogue. course remember James Cag- ney squashing a grapefruit Mae Clarke's face. But does that affectionate memory than "Here's kid"? knows Chaplin anized feeder in Times is I've ever laughed harder gag. But at the end of Some Like It Hot, E. says to Jack Lemmon, nobody' perfect." The is no between the and the Why not the best of both? I'll go further. love long speeches. of the the studio resisted doing Network"
Isn’t that such a good “defence” of dialogue? The writer-director who has created the most memorable lines is Billy Wilder, who has 3 contenders for the best closing lines of all time—The Apartment (“Shut up and deal”), Some Like It Hot (“Nobody’s perfect”), and Sunset Boulevard (“All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up”). Dialogue is not uncinematic. It is only uncinematic when it is superfluous exposition, and worst if it’s the director’s way of explaining the film to the audience (which is common in Christopher Nolan’s films). 
Now look at this passage: 
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That is fascinating and scary at the same time—would I be able to tell? 
The book offers some invaluable insight and advice about directing. I admire Sidney Lumet immensely, and now love him even more as I read the book. He is not an auteur, he might not even be seen as a stylist, but does it matter? I would say that 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon are masterpieces, and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a great, heartbreaking film that should be better known. Many of his other films are also highly acclaimed, such as Serpico, The Verdict, Network, Murder on the Orient Express, Long Day’s Journey into Night... Why are some other directors ranked higher just because their films are more stylistic or technically more impressive? 
That leads me to another point: is the ability to work with actors not important? The directors who I think are masters at getting the best performances out of actors are Ingmar Bergman, Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet, and Francis Ford Coppola. And perhaps Roman Polanski (Adrien Brody never had anything remotely as good as his performance in The Pianist). 
Some other directors who are also good at working with actors are Billy Wilder, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Zhang Yimou, Krzysztof Kieslowski… (I don’t include Kurosawa and Mizoguchi because Japanese acting is a different style). 
As you follow a director’s work, you realise what their main strengths are—they are better at some aspects of filmmaking than others. Fellini’s main strengths, for example, are in blocking/staging, cinematography, and visual storytelling. Billy Wilder’s are in story, structure/ pacing, dialogue, and working with actors. Orson Welles’s are in cinematography (especially lighting), structure, editing, and sound. Luis Bunuel’s are in story/ plot, ideas, and pacing. Andrei Tarkovsky’s are in ideas, cinematography, sound, and atmosphere. 
You also notice, not weaknesses, but that some aspects don’t interest a director as much as others. There isn’t much to say about cinematography and lighting in Luis Bunuel’s films, for example; or editing in Tarkovsky’s; or story in Wong Kar-wai’s.  
It is not without reason that I think Ingmar Bergman’s the best director of all time, because his films do have everything—good story, interesting idea, depth, pacing, great cinematography (especially lighting), great sound, great editing (most notably in Persona), good production design (at least in Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander), wonderful performances, good visual storytelling, experiments… But usually, directors have their strengths, and they may be weaker, or at least not as spectacular, in some other aspects of filmmaking, so why is it that directors who are good at techniques valued much more highly than directors who are good at drama (emotional complexity in a scene, and pacing for the film as a whole) and working with actors? 
When a film looks good, it is visually pleasing, but at the end of the day, so what? I like good acting. I like touching stories. I like films that make me see life differently and learn something about myself. I never use the word “great” for directors like Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson—they’re good at what they do, and their films are entertaining, but have no depth and offer no more than that. But even if we talk about Stanley Kubrick, a director I admire very much when it comes to techniques (especially the production design, cinematography, and use of music), none of his films has ever touched me on an emotional, personal level like 12 Angry Men or Dog Day Afternoon has. In Dog Day Afternoon, people talk a lot about Al Pacino, who indeed delivers a fine performance, one of the best in his career, but we should also talk about John Cazale—for some reason, I can never forget the incredibly sad look on his face when Al Pacino asks where he wants to go if he could go anywhere, and he says “Wyoming”. 12 Angry Men shows Sidney Lumet’s talent at working with actors, and also his ability to make an engrossing film in an enclosed space. I’d choose Sidney Lumet over Kubrick anytime. 
But that’s enough. Get Making Movies. It’s a good book. Even Roger Ebert said: 
“Invaluable… I am sometimes asked if there is 1 book a filmgoer could read to learn more about how movies are made and what to look for while watching them. This is the book.”