In November ’11 I applied Alexander Payne‘s ten-years-of-special-relevance theory to other directors. Andrew Sarris‘s remark about artists having only so much psychic essence also applies. Two things have to happen for a director to enjoy a special zeitgeist-tapping run. One, the director has to be firing on all cylinders. And two, the culture has to embrace and celebrate his/her output during this run of inspiration. Just being good or gifted doesn’t cut it in itself — the public (or at the very least the critics and the award-bestowing fraternity) also has to agree.
David Lean had a high-quality ten-year run run from Brief Encounter (’45) through Summertime (’55), but his prime-zeitgeist period lasted only eight years — The Bridge on the River Kwai (’57) to Dr. Zhivago (’65). The poorly received Ryan’s Daughter nearly finished him off, but then he came back in ’84 with A Passage to India.
John Ford‘s zeitgeist decade ran from The Informer to My Darling Clementine (’46), then he began to caricature himself with his Monument Valley films of the late ’40s and ’50s. Ford resurged with The Horse Soldiers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Alfred Hitchcock did superb work in the ’30s and ’40s, but his window of mythic greatness was only nine years — Strangers on a Train (’51) to Psycho (’60).
Billy Wilder‘s grace period ran an even ten years — Sunset Boulevard (’50) to The Apartment (’60). Francis Coppola‘s window ran from The Godfather (’72) to One From The Heart (’82). Oliver Stone had a 13-year window — Salvador (’86) to Any Given Sunday (’99). So far Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu has had a decade-long grace period — Amores perros (’00) to Biutiful (’10). David Fincher has enjoyed an eleven-year window so far — Fight Club (’99) to The Social Network (’10).
Other assessments about other directors in this context?
While I did pretty well as a journalist and a columnist in the ’90s and early aughts, my big decade began in ’06 when I took HE in to a several-posts-per-day bloggy-blog format. I honestly feel like things are crackling on all four burners right now.