A man who works with his hands is a laborer;
a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman;
but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.
In his indispensable film study text, Understanding Movies, Louis Gianetti held forth on what separated craftsmanlike directors from those who rise above the norm:
“…what differentiates a great director from one who is merely competent is not so much a matter of what happens, but how things happen…”
In other words, Gianetti continued, the difference was in how effectively the director used form – visual style, composition, editing, mise en scene, and the rest of the directorial toolbox – to “…embody (a film’s) content.”
But with the rise of big budget blockbusters in the 70s and 80s, there came the ascendancy of a breed of director for whom content mattered less than form. In fact, there were, actually, some for whom content seemed not to matter at all. For them, visual virtuosity was not, in Gianetti’s words, a means of embodying content, but an end in itself; they were purveyors of what detractors often referred to as “pretty pictures” and “eye candy.” As opposed to Gianetti’s content embodiers, they represented a new directorial species presciently limned by film theoretician Siegfried Kracauer over a half-century ago:
“The technician cares about means and functions rather than ends and modes of being… he will be inclined…to conceive of them in an abstract way…”