Symbiotic Fetishes in Filmland

At first glance, one of the more fertile types of relations has to be what I call the “father-son” relationship, as exemplified by Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, or John Ford and John Wayne. Kurosawa and Mifune made 16 films together, which would change cinema’s face forever. Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Ikiru are monuments of world cinema and although both men had prolific careers independently, their work would never be as awe-inspiring again as during their extraordinary collaboration. Kurosawa nurtured Mifune’s talent by writing diverse and challenging parts for him, molding him into the cinematic giant he would become. When the actor, a heavy drinker like Kurosawa, would race around drunk in his sports car after shooting for the day was done, it was Kurosawa who had to stop him and send him to bed. After the separation, the director, by now a sort of éminence grise, would comment on Mifune with a blend of admiring chagrin and disillusioned longing, while his once favorite actor would wait for nothing more than a final approval from Kurosawa. Like two magnets with positive charges, father figure and prodigal son gravitated towards each other but were always driven apart before they could reach the other.

There are myriad parallels between John Ford and John Wayne. Fittingly, Ford was a direct influence on Kurosawa’s work. Therefore, it is not surprising that he had a son figure as well; he discovered Wayne at a young age, made him into a superstar, and would later be reliant on him as his protégé to produce his best work. The 21 films they made together included game changing classics like Stagecoach and The Searchers, and just like Mifune, Wayne would embody the ideal male, infused with patriotic pathos and nationalistic virtues. Their private wars over politics and film financing were well publicized, but Ford and Wayne had an artistic affinity that brought them together time and time again.
With a cinematic legacy that prevails to this day, the father-son relation is a strong contender for the most profitable director/actor model.

The repulsive attraction model is best illustrated by the tumultuous relationship between soft-spoken enfant terrible Werner Herzog and Teutonic madman Klaus Kinski. Herzog’s fabled life-threatening work methods and Kinski’s uncontrollable temper that would sometimes result in hour-long yelling orgies are legendary. Kinski would refuse to take direction from Herzog, calling him a “dwarf director” who’s instructions were “insulting.” His genius is instilled in the 5 films that he and Herzog made together, first and foremost in Aguirre – Wrath of God. And the director credits his “best fiend” for teaching him about movement patterns, room perception and speech rhythms.

The conflicts opposing John Huston and Humphrey Bogart, who made 6 films together, might be less spectacular. But Huston, the tormented genius, rootless and reckless was notorious for going way over schedule on his shoots and Bogart, the homely, incurious enfant prodige, was mostly interested in spending as much time as possible on his yacht. They clashed constantly. Bogart felt the most comfortable with Huston in the director’s chair because he pushed him to go beyond himself (and also because both men had a strong inclination towards booze), but he couldn’t bear the director’s time consuming work method that kept him from home, once calling Huston a “bastard,” who had been “dicking around” long enough.
With a battery of anecdotes that fill entire books and, in Herzog’s and Kinski’s case, documentaries, the repulsive attraction model has a smaller output but is more infamous.

Attraction and rejection, fascination and dedication, adoration and self-abandonment are the ingredients for the muse model, a model that is also extraordinarily fruitful. Consider, for example, Lillian Gish and D.W. Griffith who, between 1912 and 1922, made 42 films together. And what would Woody Allen’s career look like without Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, or, more recently, Scarlett Johansson?

A number of these pairings could be described as father-daughter relations of sorts, when the directors discover their muse at a young age, and teach them everything they need to know in order to give the performances the director needs from them. This was the case with Gish and Griffith, but also with Joseph von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich, who made 8 pictures together. Dietrich wrote about von Sternberg in her autobiography that he was her “father, critic and instructor”, concluding: “He created me.”

One could say that in the same way,Jean-Luc Godard created Anna Karina who would become the poster girl of the French New Wave. Having seen her in a soap commercial, he was impressed enough to offer her a small role in what would become the most influential film of the Nouvelle Vague, A bout de souffle. But Karina turned down the offer because the part demanded nudity. In 1960, Godard finally offered her a leading role in Le petit soldat. He would give her books to read, introduced her to world cinema and took her to his regulars’ table with fellow New Wave directors.

Thus began a working relationship that lasted for 7 films and a love relationship that brings us to another facet of the muse model: the married director/actor couple. The relationship ended in a divorce in 1967 and their work together can be seen as the offspring of a burning but deceiving passion that would make for pulsating art, but a hapless private life.

The opposite model can be found in Frederico Fellini and Giulietta Masina. The couple got married in 1943 and she rose to superstardom during the 1950’s, starring in 7 of her husband’s most successful films, and winning an Academy Award in 1957 for her work in Fellini’s Night of Cabiria. Marcello Mastroianni, with whom Fellini made 6 films, was arguably the more important long-time collaborator for the director (the 1963 film 8 _, who finds both men at the peak of their virtuoso creativity has to be counted among the best movies of all times) but it was Masina who nourished and cherished the director artistically, being at times confidante, adviser, or protector of her husband’s sparks of creativity.

Without a doubt the most glamorous relationship type, the muse model is both productive and sexy, artistically legitimate and dignified.

text by: Garance Wilkens










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