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The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION -

Film-mak­ing is not for the el­derly, says Don­ald Clarke

WE PROB­A­BLY shouldn’t pay too much at­ten­tion, but Quentin Tarantino has sug­gested that he may re­tire af­ter mak­ing three more films. If he leaves a sim­i­lar gap be­tween fu­ture projects as he put be­tween Jackie Brown and Kill Bill, it will be 2030 be­fore QT – then a plau­si­bly pen­sion­able 67 – fi­nally hangs up the mega­phone.

His gen­eral the­sis is, how­ever, wor­thy of some con­sid­er­a­tion. “Di­rec­tors don’t get bet­ter as they get older,” he said. “Usu­ally the worst films in their fil­mog­ra­phy are those last four at the end.”

This sounds like an out­ra­geous gen­er­al­i­sa­tion, but it’s not so wide of the mark. Math­e­mati­cians and pop­u­lar mu­si­cians fa­mously ex­cel when young. Nov­el­ists achieve great things late in life. Film di­rect­ing does, by way of con­trast, seem like a mid­dleaged man’s game.

Draw up a list of the great­est film-mak­ers and ask your­self how many avoided late-ca­reer de­cline. John Ford slouched through the leaden Cheyenne Au­tumn and the mis­con­ceived Young Cas­sidy. Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola has been em­bar­rass­ing him­self for decades. Af­ter hits with late epics such as Ran and Kage­musha, Akira Kuro­sawa an­nounced dotage with the truly aw­ful Dreams. Jean-Luc Go­dard lost the film plot 40 years ago.

Some di­rec­tors man­age to func­tion ef­fec­tively at about 75 per cent of their op­ti­mum oper­at­ing ca­pac­ity. Most of us en­joyed Shut­ter Is­land, Hugo and The De­parted, but few of us rate those Martin Scors­ese films be­side early master­pieces such as Rag­ing Bull and Taxi Driver.

More of­ten than not, how­ever, the story is one of to­tal de­cline. Why is this so? Charles Dick­ens and Ge­orge Eliot im­proved as they aged; why not Billy Wilder or Al­fred Hitch­cock?

Un­like nov­el­ists, film-mak­ers – har­ried by pro­duc­ers who want large au­di­ences – are forced to in­dulge the whims of the zeit­geist. In the early 1960s, hav­ing just made Ver­tigo, Psy­cho and The Birds, Hitch­cock was at the height of his pow­ers. Fool­ishly per­suaded to get on board with the vogu­ish es­pi­onage craze, he em­braced de­cline with the slack Torn Cur­tain and the hope­less Topaz. By the close of the decade, Hitch­cock looked like yes­ter­day’s man. Wilder also had trou­ble sur­viv­ing the swing­ing decade.

The near-univer­sal praise for Michael Haneke’s re­cent Amour points us to­wards two ways of avoid­ing a slump in old-age. Now 70, Haneke has never made films that ad­here to con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous tends. Also, he had the good sense to start late. Hav­ing re­leased his first movie at 47, the Aus­trian has been in the fea­ture busi­ness only a year or two longer than Tarantino. He still seems fresh.

This does not of­fer much con­so­la­tion for the film-maker al­ready deep into a po­ten­tially lengthy ca­reer. To para­phrase the old mildly racist joke about the Ir­ish­man giv­ing direc­tions, well, I wouldn’t start from here. dclarke@irish­times.com

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