MEN OF VISION

Twelve portraits of film directors by STEVE PYKE. Text by CHRIS PEACHMENT
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Steve Pyke's last exhibition of portraits concentrated on philosophers. It was fascinating for a number of reasons, not least because thinkers tend to be reclusive figures and it is human nature to want to pin a face to someone who was previously only a name. There was also the odd, nagging worry as to whether one could detect signs of the man's professed beliefs in his face. Did that jaw-line indicate a logical positivist? Do those eyes speak of a rational humanist?

Film directors are different. While not as immediately recognisable as actors, none the less they are much more part of the public domain than professors. They appear at award ceremonies, being polite about their rivals. They give interviews, especially if their current film looks dodgy at the box-office. Fans will know a Scorsese movie from an Altman movie, and may keep a picture of either on the kitchen cork-board. Many of them act, sometimes in their own films, sometimes for their friends. Some, like Woody Allen, have well-defined public personas. And it's noticeable that they make very good actors, aware of technique, and always forceful, as one would expect of a director.

I have hardly ever met a film director I didn't like. That may be a fan speaking, but can you say the same of people you meet from day to day? Directors are wildly diverse in their personalities, but if they have one common trait it is sheer forcefulness. They may not wear riding breeches and carry a whip these days, but in their own ways they are all "big" men. Men of vision, men of life, men who can walk on to a set with a cast and crew of hundreds and bend them all to their will. And, these days, women too.

Pyke seems to have no particular agenda behind his portraits. Perhaps they are his favourite directors. Perhaps they were just around when he was at a festival. I don't think he's searching for any underlying similarities, any one thing which says "film director". But, like all good portraitists, he catches not just the likeness but a moment of psychological truth. Much is already known about the body of work produced by each director here. Can you, from looking at the portrait, guess what kind of films the man makes? It's an unfair game, and back-to-front, too, because we know each director's work already, and perhaps something of his nature. But the spectator can't help playing it.

MICHAEL POWELL AND EMERIC PRESSBURGER After many years in the wilderness and much critical jousting on their behalf, Powell (left) and Pressburger are now indisputably the greatest of British film makers. That battle has been won at least. But I would now go further. They are in the world's pantheon. Compare The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp with Citizen Kane. Both look back over the careers of faulty men. But Blimp is a love letter, alert to the man's failings, yet full of clear-eyed admiration for everything paradoxical about the English. Every shot in Kane is overwhelmed by Welles's egotism. The Hungarian Pressburger was a gentle soul, and always got co-direction credit, in spite of mainly being the writer. In old age, the very English Powell was unembittered, mischievous, and happily married to Scorsese's editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. Prospero and Miranda?

MARTIN SCORSESE

Tense, nervous headache? This is the man who gave the Mob a Catholic conscience, revealed Robert De Niro (when we should have been watching Harvey Keitel), and now films Edith Wharton novels in a style to outdo Merchant Ivory. An encyclopaedic knowledge of film informs all his work, and Raging Bull is in many people's Top Ten. But there has been slackening lately, as if the fuelling neuroses were wearing off. He doesn't have the beard these days, either, but he looked better with it.

WIM WENDERS Wenders is as serious as he looks here. You don't find many of his characters dancing on the table from the sheer joy of living. He is quiet, courteous, very intense, very serious. And so are his films - Kings of the Road, The State of Things, Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire: slow, gentle, with a lyrical sense of American culture and the resigned sadness of one of those Dutch ladies in Vermeer's interiors. He is currently helping the aged Antonioni complete a film, which suggests either generosity or suicide.

BRIAN DE PALMA He looks middlebrow-thoughtful, like a Norman Jewison or a George Stevens. Strange, given that his movies are so desperate in their come-on. The son of a surgeon (he has joked about how that may account for his liking for blood), he spent too much of his early career plodding doggedly in the bootsteps of Hitchcock. His later career has shown a taste for bravura set pieces, such as the railway station steps sequence in The Untouchables, stolen from Eisenstein, and reprised for the dreadful Carlito's Way. Scarface, though, is a riot.

ROMAN POLANSKI This face looks like it has had a trouble-free existence which has left its owner with an easy charm and a talent for light comedy. But Polanski grew up on the run from the Nazis; his wife was murdered by the Manson gang; and he skipped bail when up on charges of statutory rape. But as Jack Nicholson said, "The little bastard is a genius." Witness Cul De Sac, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Tenant. Don't mention the comedies, though. Women who meet him are much charmed. Men sometimes less so.

BERTRAND TAVERNIER He looks uncharacteristically mean in this portrait. In fact he is the most generous of men. Generous with his time, generous in his films. A polymath, he chose jazz and the movies as his field and has written acclaimed works on both. Now France's premier director, his films, from The Watchmaker of St Paul to Round Midnight and Life and Nothing But, have an essential decency, and a fruitful working relationship with the wonderful Phillipe Noiret. Tavernier is also a great chef; his dinner parties are legendary.

ROBERT ALTMAN

Surely the face of a Confederate Civil War general. He should have played Robert E Lee in the recent film of Gettysburg. Altman, now 70, did not come to fame until his mid-forties with MASH. The darling of Seventies alternative Americana, he slid into penury and obscurity in the Eighties, only to come back in 1992 with The Player and then Short Cuts, from Ray Carver's stories of blue-collar folk. A strong family man, using many of his offspring on set.

KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI

First noticed in the West with the Dekalog, ten one-hour films for television which illuminated the truths of the Ten Commandments; formally perfect but austere. Since then, we have had the sublime The Double Life of Veronique, and the Colours trilogy: Blue, White and Red. That last shared a notion with Veronique that all our lives intersect in some mystical way. He claims to have retired, an act which, given the current state of what used to be known as "art cinema", verges on the criminal. He should be brought back, at gunpoint if needs be.

JOHN BOORMAN Boorman on a horse? Only a second's thought suggests, "Yes, of course." Our greatest myth-maker, he seems happiest when filming up to his waist in jungle rivers. One should stress both "jungle" and "river". A Jungian, with strong beliefs about nature and man's place in it, he has constantly celebrated heroes of the forest (King Arthur in Excalibur, Burt Reynolds in Deliverance, Powers Boothe in The Emerald Forest), and worshipped the cleansing power of lakes, rivers and seas. A profoundly nice man.

MIKE LEIGH This lugubrious bloodhound, with the unnerving resemblance to Salman Rushdie, is the scourge of the uneducated, the unemployable, the ghastly people you have to sit next to on the Tube. He works by a laborious method of improvisation with his actors and has come up with English "types" of excruciating funniness. His last, Naked, finally mined a vein of pain and anger in England's unlovely wastelands. He has never entirely answered accusations of misanthropy. Still, they don't issue fatwahs for that, yet.

NIC ROEG One of those kindly child analysts at the Tavistock Clinic? Roeg crossed the Kray brothers with Sixties rock culture for Performance, took a rare look at necrophilia in Vienna (Freud's city) for Bad Timing, recognised the deadly embrace of Venice for Don't Look Now, and recently directed the still-unseen Heart of Darkness, Conrad's scream of horror at the face of colonialism. A strong streak of mysticism runs throughout his work. Not for the kiddies, although he did a good job on Roald Dahl's The Witches.

SAM FULLER What you see here is what you get. A grizzled old warhorse. Before the War, a tabloid reporter who covered murders with photographer Weegee. During the War, a dog soldier who fought his way across Europe and opened up the gates of Birkenau concentration camp. His film The Big Red One hits you like despatches from the front. Since the War, a cigar- chewing maker of tough, humane B pictures like no others. Young critics call Scorsese the greatest living American director. Not while Sam Fuller is alive, he isn't.

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