BILLY WILDER'S long collaboration with Charles Brackett and I.A.L. Diamond on the screenplay makes you suddenly realise how rare such partnerships are in cinema. Film, after all, is the most collaborative art and yet you seldom find the same people working together on more than one film. The most well known examples of talents working together are: Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Satyajit Ray and Soumitra Chatterjee. Four lesser known examples: film-makers Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), David Cronenberg (EXistenZ), David Lynch (Mulholland Drive), Joel and Ethan Coen and the unusual way they have functioned in Hollywood.
In almost every film of theirs they have tried to use some of the cast and crew of the previous film. Demme's cinematographer is usually Tak Fujimato and the supporting character actors he casts are always turning up in his movies in different roles. Cronenberg's cinematographer is Peter Suszitsky and his music composer is Howard Shore. While the Coen brothers have used music composer Carter Burwell for most of their films, Lynch uses no other music composer except Angelo Badalamenti. And Scorsese's film editor is always, Thelma Schoonmaker.
Satyajit Ray experienced this from the start because he worked outside Bollywood and was able to share his artistic sensibility not only with Soumitra Chatterjee but with most of his crew as well. I think you can spot an artiste, a real artiste, in Hollywood by looking at how closely she works with other artistes.
In the case of Scorsese and De Niro, I think it enriched their work - the long association with each other. Scorsese depended on De Niro to get quickly into a character and in turn De Niro gave Scorsese the kind of powerhouse performance that other directors seldom got from him.
From working on nearly every film of Scorsese, film editor Schoonmaker knows exactly the tempo and rhythm that her director wants for each film.
If you listen to all the film scores of Carter Burwell they feel like variations on the same theme and so when watching one Coen brothers film, you are reminded of another.
Angelo Badalamenti's music score actually helps director David Lynch set up a certain scene or a particular mood - usually dreamy, lush and eerie. In turn, the composer uses Lynch's obsession with dreams to broaden his own work. He has come up with great tunes for "Twin Peaks" and "Lost Highway" but the motifs you hear in those two themes perfect themselves in the theme for "Mulholland Drive". In the same way that A.R. Rahman seems to understand what Mani Ratnam wants for each film. His songs for "Kannathil Muthamital" sound only so-so until you hear them in the film - there they lend themselves beautifully to what Ratnam wants to do in those songs - here's a soundtrack that serves the film's story, theme and characterisation more than just the pop charts.
What makes these artistes want to work together? What made Wilder want to continue working with Brackett and Diamond; why didn't he jump screenwriters the way most filmmakers in Hollywood did?
Once you've had a hit on your hands, it must be very attractive to get the hottest new actor or screenwriter in your next film. But Scorsese decided to stick to De Niro and Wilder to Brackett. They obviously worked well together and the combination was a successful one but there was more to it - they were wired to each other artistically, they were obsessed about the same things.
De Niro shared and understood Scorsese's vision, Wilder translated Brackett's stories of drunks, failures and sexual wrecks faithfully into screen. With a film-maker like Demme, it isn't just an artistic coming together but creating a sense of community with each new film. Almost as if each film unit was a family coming together after a break to work once again together. But more than anything, I think such collaboration is about how these film-makers, lost in the impersonal machinery of Hollywood, are trying to make film-making intimate, intense, joyful.
(The author can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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