The difference these days seems to be that the auteur theory has been replaced by the idea that anyone can do it. If stars are rich enough, they fund their own pet projects. Mel Gibson sank $20 million of his own money into Braveheart, for instance. And then there's always the studio. Executives are happy to humour the aspirations of actors, knowing that a "star director" always guarantees some kind of box-office, and so are currently sending their big names off to be directors. The results are sometimes surprisingly accomplished. Dances with Wolves confounded Cassandra critics; Tim Robbins's shoestring budgeted Bob Roberts was a decent slice of satire, and veteran cowboy, Clint Eastwood, once again proved his skill in the directing saddle when he rewrote the western in Unforgiven.
More often, though, they are less than inspirational. Take Home for the Holidays, this week's release from Jodie Foster, a brilliant actress and director of the pedestrian Little Man Tate. The film is a mishmash of satire, farce and some embarrassingly over-the-top caricatures that conform to all the stereotypes of the dysfunctional family drama. Although the film is pure middle-of-the-road hokum, Foster's name, a small budget and a clutch of respectable stars including Robert Downey Jr and Holly Hunter lend the film putative credibility as an "independent" movie. And there's a rash of others to follow. Matthew Broderick gets weighty with Infinity, a film about a physicist, written by his mum; Tom Hanks has turned out the lumpen That Thing You Do! and Angelica Huston's Bastard out of Carolina has already kicked up a pre-release storm after receiving the censure of super-mogul, Ted Turner. Even small fry Kevin Spacey has decided to take a swim with the Hollywood sharks with his failed heist movie Albino Alligator. The star decided not to act in the film because he felt that that might smack of a "vanity" production. Hmmm.