You don't have to indulge every whim

THE GRIPE

The Buzz

July 14, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Slow down and dare to be great: That's my message to Richard Linklater, the audacious director of A Scanner Darkly. He's at a time in his career when he seems ready to follow through on any notion he finds in his creative kitchen down in Austin, Texas, then deliver it to the public no matter what stage it is in the baking process.

Don't get me wrong: A Scanner Darkly isn't half-baked. It's more three-quarters-baked, and it took years to get its complicated animation to the point where it expressed the scary ups and downs of the characters and the paranoid terrors of their drug-riddled world. But it might have been a masterpiece if Linklater had repeatedly taken apart and rejiggered the ingredients instead of over-relying on the source novel by Philip K. Dick. Maybe he could have done that if he weren't involved at the same time in his soon-to-be-released live-action adaptation of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation or his flaccid 2005 remake of The Bad News Bears.

The late Belgian-born director Jean-Claude Tramont managed to make only one deliciously quirky American movie during his years in Hollywood, the 1981 Gene Hackman-Barbra Streisand comedy All Night Long. He used to tell me that he admired directors such as Sidney Lumet and Robert Altman - even when they turned out one negligible movie after another - just for flexing their directing muscles and keeping them strong.

For decades, our ruthless moviemaking environment has required most filmmakers to start each project from scratch, with new creative teams and production guidelines every time out. It must be tempting for even individualistic and gifted directors to keep a flow of product going, whether or not the script is balanced and the concepts lucid and locked in.

But critics and fans shouldn't be overprotective of their directing gods. Moviemakers can fall into the same traps as actors such as Michael Caine and Gene Hackman, who love the craft (and the money) so much that at their height of stardom they took ridiculous jobs such as Blame it on Rio (Caine) or The Domino Principle (Hackman). Only later did they reinvent themselves as character actors and reach new plateaus of achievement. They slowed down and dared to be great.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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