Staff Inquiry: Director’s Cinematic Worlds We Want To Inhabit
In our latest collaboration, we discuss cinematic worlds we want to live in, ranging from John Ford's Westerns to Jacques Demy's musicals.
We’re headed straight for escapism with this month’s staff inquiry, contemplating directors that make cinematic worlds we want to live in. Real life is great and all, but who hasn’t imagined themselves as knights in shining armor or pals of the coolest kids in school. Cinema allows us to enter worlds a little brighter and more exciting than our own, and there’s no shame in wanting to stay there.
So gear up for a trip through our fantasies, courtesy of some of cinema’s greatest minds.
Alex Windley – John Ford
From the rock formations of Utah to the grainy red dirt of Texas, the movie world of John Ford is a fascinating look at the citizens of, what we call, the wild wild west.
A veteran of over 146 movies, John Ford was the maestro of the American frontier. His films have instilled a sense of wonder and grit into the fabric of America. Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and many others all have landscapes that personify the American west.
Ford is the creator of a world where the gunslinging cowboy and Native Americans co-exist, most of the time peacefully.
His westerns have inspired me – big time; I’ve always wanted to be apart of them somehow. That’s why I think living in the world of John Ford movies would be the most fascinating. It’s a world where cowboys and their untamable steads maintain order in town against “unsavory” visitors. The thought of owning a certain plot of land, building a successful town, seeing it prosper, then naming yourself the sheriff is a pipe dream of mine.
In many of Ford’s films, this plot line seems to be the common thread. Ford introduces us into a peaceful town, then the conflict arises, in comes John Wayne, and somewhere along the line everything gets resolved through gunfights and peace talks. Oh, and Maureen O’Hara is shoehorned in there, too!
On top of everything, wouldn’t it be cool to live with folks like John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara? Who doesn’t want that?
That’s why I chose John Ford. Not only are his films incredible, they also make you want to hitch your wagon and travel west with a horse named Thunderfoot.
Amanda Mazzillo – Wes Anderson
The moment I saw the theme for this collaborative piece, I knew exactly which director I had to pick. Ever since I first saw one of Wes Anderson’s films, I knew he was and will remain one of my favorite directors. For a moment, I thought about some of my other favorite directors, yet so many of them are worlds I would never want to live in. Wes Anderson’s world seems the most magical, yet realistic. His films create a mixture of modern characters and vintage aesthetics.
One of my favorite elements of Wes Anderson’s films are the costume and set designs. In my daily life, I wish I could express my style as well as the characters in Anderson’s films. Some days, I do try to capture this vintage aesthetic by putting on a dress or utilizing pastels and Futura in my graphic designs.
Wes Anderson’s films always feature many different yet wildly interesting and dysfunctional characters. I know dysfunction isn’t a huge draw, but I think Anderson’s films explore dysfunction in interesting ways, managing to examine realistic yet stylized characters. His films do not limit themselves to the characters in which we are supposed to identify. Exploring different types of people is engaging and makes people with different personalities, interests, and styles feel like they can fit in.
Wes Anderson’s films also always feature wonderful songs handpicked from across genres, decades, and languages. When I listen to music, one of my most frequent choices is a playlist featuring all the music from every Wes Anderson film. Frequently, the music of his films is the soundtrack to my day, adding a level of calm reflection to everything I do.
Benjamin Wang – Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki’s films conceive of nature as something both alien and familiar to humans: nature possesses qualities humans don’t, but humans are still part of nature. Crucially, he depicts nature as something alive, constantly acting and reacting. Nature takes on very, very different forms across his films – one might think the adorable creatures from My Neighbor Totoro are incompatible with Princess Mononoke’s warlike forest gods, but these simply depict how nature responds to different modes of human behavior. The catch, as we see in films like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, is that humans live in multitudes, and we don’t all behave the same way. Some people exploit each other and some stand in solidarity.
To live in Miyazaki’s films would be to take on the necessities of social interaction and an awareness of your surroundings. You would find a sharper sense of nature’s power and flexibility; you’d see the reverberating effects of the bonds you share with those closest to you. You might not find much of an escape from the world’s troubles – that’s not what happened for the titular character of Porco Rosso, in the end, but you’d find a loud and clear affirmation of the wonders and joys of lived experience.
Daniel Cohen – Robert Zemeckis
The world of Robert Zemeckis isn’t perfect. I wouldn’t want to get irritated by the meaning of Contact in person, or get transformed into the overhyped special effects in The Polar Express. The ability to travel through time and go hobnobbing in Toon Town, though; feels like a pretty good Saturday night.
I know it’s easy to jump immediately into the DeLorean, but if I really was transported to the world of Zemeckis, the first place I’d go to is the Ink & Paint Club (Walt sent me). Even as a kid, this dingy, underground bar where cartoons perform nightclub acts looked fun as hell. After grabbing a few drinks with Marvin Acme while he pranked unsuspecting boobs with disappearing/reappearing ink, I’d fulfill a lifelong dream and woo Jessica Rabbit, my all-time movie crush.
Jessica and I would go on the ultimate date through time. Maybe a ’50s diner, the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, or perhaps even ride around on a few hoverboards through the streets of Hill Valley. Even though I’m a fan of Back to the Future Part III, I’d probably stay out of the West. I’m not a crack shot like Marty.
While Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit are the obvious landing spots, I wouldn’t forget about Forrest Gump. I don’t think I’d join him in Vietnam, but I’d absolutely take in a ping pong match. That would be fun.
The last place I’d go will surprise you. While I wouldn’t want to be trapped on the Cast Away island for five years, I’d take a raft and find the original Wilson and return it to Chuck Noland.
I always thought that would be a nice thing to do.
Nathan Osborne – Damien Chazelle
The cinematic world Damien Chazelle crafted for his award-winning musical La La Land is outstanding. It’s a heightened image of Los Angeles, sun-drenched with colour that pops with vivid vibrancy in every frame; a world where bursting into song and dance spontaneously is not only allowed but actively encouraged; a land of ordinary people after extraordinary things. Its beauty is incomparable and its competitiveness a personal driving force.
But most importantly, it becomes a place that persuades you to dream – big, far and wide. It captures what it means to be ambitious and hopeful, to strive to achieve your wishes and goals no matter how unreachable they may appear to be. In the real world, dreaming is often discouraged, complete with the nagging sense that the impossible is not worth contending with. While Mia, in particular, experiences that notion, she ultimately continues to a place where her dreams become reality – encouraging you to do the same, too.
Through the characters of Sebastian and Mia we meet the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the people that populate La La Land. They are part of a melting pot – of different backgrounds, beliefs, ideas and inspirations, all with one thing that unites them: an insatiable ability to hope and dream. Through the songs and music, Chazelle invites us into a whirlwind world of Sun, of Crowds, of Stars, of Lovely Nights and, yes, of Dreams.
Chazelle’s world is beautiful in every sense of the word: the perfect antidote to the darkness of the real world.
Robb Sheppard – Neill Blomkamp
When musing upon which cinematic world you would wish to inhabit (as you do), it’s doubtful that the name of director Neill Blomkamp springs to mind. But if the world is going to fall apart, and it’s safer to say ‘when’ than ‘if’, I’d like to have a little consistency to cling to, thank you! In films such as District 9, Elysium, and Chappie, Blomkamp tackles apartheid, totalitarianism, and class segregation through highly stylised dystopian imagery whose motifs bleed from film to film.
But without feeling the need to drop the dreaded “cinematic universe” tag, Blomkamp depicts a future where technology has evolved in unison across his films, whether through alien technology or human scientific advance, in weaponry and transport. Roughshod, battle worn, and graffiti’d, the look is unmistakably Blomkamp and is symbolic of the human struggle.
However, as expertly modelled by Matt Damon in Elysium, biomechanical advances such as exoskeletons suggest that the Human Plus is an employable possibility, available in the face of adversity. It’s an encouraging step forward and sign of affirmation in a world where humans evolve into cockroaches or “prawns” or are controlled by a militarised police force.
Although bleak, Blomkamp’s cinematic world emits light: It’s hope for the oppressed, the fight for equality, and unification against a common enemy. I can’t think what brought all this to mind.
Stephanie Archer – Chris Columbus
While the brief moment of breath holding every summer hoping for my Hogwarts letter can be directly related to J.K Rowling, creator and writer of the book and world of Harry Potter, it was director Chris Columbus that forever secured my heart in the world of magic. Honestly, I had never read the books prior to seeing Columbus’s live-action adaption of Harry Potter and the Sorcer’s Stone, yet it was only moments into the film that I found myself completely enamored.
The moment the film started, the world brought to life through the visionary mind of Columbus would forever have me hooked – as well as imagining myself in a world of pure imagination (Ask my fiancée. He has endured several Harry Potter weekends on ABC Family). Everything was possible, and it wasn’t a surprise that he brought warmth and wholesomeness to the first two films. This was not the director’s first attempt at family-friendly cinema. Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone (1 and 2), and Mrs. Doubtfire have all been staples of Columbus’s career and of my childhood, and qualities within these films are easily detected while watching the first two installments of the Harry Potter film franchise.
With a brilliantly adapted script, Columbus was able to bring children’s literature to life, transcending age. It was not only children who were rooting for the boys to defeat the Ogre or were mesmerized by the floating candles, craving to play a giant game of wizard’s chess or fly an invisible car around London. Where the books had left people to imagine, Columbus brought a clear and concise picture of a world that will be forever loved and cherished.
Yet, it is not only the world of Harry Potter in the first two films that was brought to life, but it also became a precedent for directors that would follow Columbus. The bar had been set and this world brought to screen and to life. The first two films present the world of Harry Potter that I fell in love with – and a world I find myself wishing I could be apart of every time I watch it.
Tynan Yanaga – Jacques Demy
Jacques Demy’s cinematic vision was so fully realized that it did not simply exist in standalone installments scattered across each of his pictures, but it literally encompassed every film he ever made. They almost all took place in one alternate universe that I would love to visit. It’s not unlike our own, but there’s no doubt that Demy imbued it with his own flair and vibrant sensibilities. Whether it was the recurring characters who connected storylines through fateful romantic encounters or the continually glorious palette verging on camp, it would be a joy to traipse through his dreamscapes of Nantes, Cherbourg, Rochefort, and even Los Angeles.
The beauty is that each of these seaside getaways exists, but in Demy’s vision, they keep one foot in the real world while exuding so much fanciful charm. It’s that combination that’s so alluring. Certainly, there’s melancholy in his world, but there’s also a belief in love and a joy in living that expresses itself in outpourings of song & dance and splashes of color.
Above all, there’s an inherent sense that, despite all the problems with the world, there is some higher power at work orchestrating everything into a predestined patchwork of romance. It’s something that can be believed in, because though love might be tragic, there’s still the promise of something wonderful at the end of it. Fairy tales are possible as much as tragedy, joy, and despair is possible. The complete absence of cynicism is something that feels so desirable in this day and age.
Also, if you twist my arm, I suppose I wouldn’t mind living in a world frequently occupied by Catherine Deneuve, either. There certainly are a lot of worst places to be.
Those are the cinematic worlds we want to get lost in. Which director would you chose?
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.