Sunday, May 29, 2011

120 Influences, Part 6: Film Directors

  1. Ingmar Bergman: There is Ingmar Bergman and then there is everyone else. The greatest director and screenwriter ever, but I place him only in this category to keep true the theme of 120 influences. My favorite eight of his are Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Shame, The Touch, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, Face to Face, and Autumn Sonata.

  2. John Cassavetes: My favorite American film director. Films like Faces, Husbands, A Woman Under the Influence, Opening Night, and Love Streams show what a master of improvisation he is.

  3. Francis Ford Coppola: A giant. The Godfather Trilogy is just the beginning. The Conversation and Apocalypse Now are masterpieces too.

  4. Elia Kazan: Gentlemen's Agreement, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, and his brilliant labor of love, America, America have influenced millions of people.

  5. Akira Kurasowa: If he made only Ikiru, I would have put him on this list, but he also filmed Dodes'ka-den, Ran, and many other great stories.

  6. Stanley Kramer: His The Defiant Ones, On the Beach, Inherit the Wind, and Judgment at Nuremberg arrived at times in my life to help shape my moral code.

  7. Sidney Lumet: He was a premier director in the Golden Age of Television, and his classic films include Twelve Angry Men, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Pawnbroker, Fail-Safe, The Hill, Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Equus, and The Verdict.

  8. Mike Nichols: After establishing a reputation as a funny man, he began a legendary directing career 45 years ago. He is responsible for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Wit, and Angels in America.

  9. Julian Schnabel: First a great artists and then Basquiat, Before Night Falls, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He is inventive and radiant.

  10. Fred Zinnemann: High Noon, From Here to Eternity, A Hatful of Rain, A Man for All Seasons, and Julia show what a stunning range he had.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

120 Influences, Part 5: Screenwriters

  1. Woody Allen: Averages a screenplay a year over the past half-century, each one giving a load of laughs, a glimpse into Allen singular worldview, a lesson or two about the human condition.

  2. Richard Brooks: Wrote terrific screen adaptations (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elmer Gantry, The Professionals, In Cold Blood, Looking for Mr. Goodbar) and even better as a director.

  3. Bo Goldman: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Melvin and Howard, Shoot the Moon, and Scent of a Woman, and many more have earned him every major screenwriting accolade.

  4. Ben Hecht: Check out his page on It’s impossible that you have not been thoroughly entertained by at least a dozen of his 157 screenwriting credits. How did he do it?

  5. Charlie Kaufman: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York (an all-time favorite) catapult this genius to the top of my list.

  6. Waldo Salt: He touched me at many times in my life: as an adventurous child (The Flame and the Arrow), a disillusioned teenager (Midnight Cowboy), an inquisitive college student (Serpico), and an ambitious, young married man (Coming Home).

  7. Alvin Sargent: After a stunningly successful career in TV (Naked City, Ben Casey, Route 66, Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Doctors and the Nurses), he turned to writing excellent films, including Gambit, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, Julia, and now, in his late eighties, continues with the Spider Man series.

  8. Rod Serling: I love this man for The Twilight Zone (yes, I watch the New Year's SyFy marathon), but his Requiem for a Heavyweight remains one of the greatest screenplays.

  9. Robert Towne: His screenplays of The Last Detail, Chinatown, and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, as well as his uncredited script doctoring of Bonnie and Clyde, The New Centurions, Shampoo, The Missouri Breaks, and Heaven Can Wait, should put him on anyone's Top Ten.

  10. Lina Wertmuller: The Seduction of Mimi, Love and Anarchy, and Seven Beauties are her masterpieces.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

120 Influences, Part 4: Dramatists

  1. Edward Albee: He is a student of language, an admirer of our dark side, and a master of dramatic tension. Recommended are The Zoo Story, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Tiny Alice, A Delicate Balance, All Over, Three Tall Women, The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, and Occupant.

  2. Anton Chekov: You might need to reread the first act of his plays and keep a scorecard to link the characters with their motivations, dialogue, and actions, but the experience is well worth the effort. His most widely read and seen plays--and for good reasons--are The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard.

  3. Horton Foote: The mythical Wharton, Texas serves as the setting of many of Foote's plays. He made an enormous mark in the Golden Age of Television with 30- and 60-minute teleplays, such as The Trip to Bountiful, and in film, with the adapted screenplay of To Kill a Mockingbird and the orginal screenplay of Tender Mercies, both Oscar winnersw for him. But his 60+ plays are priceless, starting with his 9-play Orphan's Home Cycle (Roots in a Parched Ground, Convicts, Lily Dale, The Widow Claire, Courtship, Valentine's Day, 1918, Cousins, and The Death of Papa).

  4. David Mamet: This Chicago native can make profound statements about who we are from seemingly random conversations. His imagination can be brutal and his dialogue vulgar, but Mamet is a consummate artist of the stage. Try American Buffalo, Edmond, Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, Oleanna, and Race.

  5. Eugene O'Neill: The Father of American Drama. It all starts with him, and here is a partial list of his 50+ plays: Beyond the Horizon, Anna Christie, The Hairy Ape, Desire Under the Elms, Strange Interlude, Mourning Becomes Electra, Ah, Wilderness!, The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.

  6. Harold Pinter: Something is always happening that between the lines or about to happen of Pinter's plays. Relationships between people, ideas, words, and actions

  7. William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, King Lear and 30 more plays are what world considers the standard by which to measure every other play. No argument.

  8. Sam Shepard: One of the most produced playwrights in American history, Shepard is a poet of the rocker, the nomad, and the West. Seeing or reading Action, Buried Child, Curse of the Starving Class, True West, Fool for Love, and A Lie of the Mind will make believers, as will watching the Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas, for which he wrote the screenplay.

  9. Tennessee Williams: He never stopped working as a playwright, poet, fiction writer, and essayist, even when he was no longer the darling of the stage. He did not care how small the theater was, as long as he continued producing. The author of The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tattoo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Orpheus Descending, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Night of the Iguana, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, and 70 more short and long plays.

  10. August Wilson: His Pittsburgh Cycle, one play per decade of the twentieth century about the African-American experience, is the greatest achievement of American drama. He did not simply write ten great plays; he exposed the roots of a culture like no anthropologist, historian, psychologist, or sociologist could. Read Wilson's work not in order of composition, but in order of chronology within the Cycle: Gem of the Ocean (1904), Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1911), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1927), The Piano Lesson (1936), Seven Guitars (1948), Fences (1957), Two Trains Running (1969), Jitney (1977), King Hedley II (1985), and Radio Golf (1997).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

120 Influences, Part 3: Poets

  1. Billy Collins: He is known for his humor, but he is also a great speaker, reader, and educator.

  2. e. e. cummings: Quirky structure, yes. Small themes, indeed. But what a master of simplicity and observer of human nature.

  3. Emily Dickinson: Sudden, lyrical, unconventional: a true American poet.

  4. John Donne: This seventeenth century British poet and essayist is peerless. "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" are as close to Scripture as a writer can get.

  5. T. S. Eliot: His "The Waste Land" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" transformed English poetry and for decades set the standard for the literature that followed.

  6. Robert Frost: He is deserving of all the accolades. His quality remained high through all his volumes of verse.

  7. Allen Ginsberg: "A Supermarket in California," "Sunflower Sutra," and especially "Howl" are classics of the latter half of the twentieth century.

  8. Pablo Neruda: Mystical, magical, stunning, life-affirming. Read "Ode to Ironing" and "The Dawn's Debility"; then read them all.

  9. Theodore Roethke: Start with "The Waking," "In a Dark Time," and "I Knew a Woman." Roethke is to poetry what Thelonious Monk is to jazz.

  10. Robert Penn Warren: I could have listed Warren as one of my top novelists, essayists, and educators, but his poetry has touched me most. Metaphysical, imaginative, pure.

Monday, May 09, 2011

120 Influences, Part 2: Novelists

  1. William Faulkner – Just a read of the Collected and Uncollected short stories of this favorite son of Mississippi should be enough to prove why Faulkner won the Nobel Prize.
  2. Ernest Hemingway – Despite all the criticism, he has received from revisionists, feminists, and critical theorists, Hemingway remains the master of the declarative sentence. Read his Complete Short Stories.
  3. Hermann Hesse – Hesse taught me the mystical possibilities of the novel through Damien, Siddhartha and Steppenwolf.
  4. Nikos Kazantzakis – The Cretan’s work and beliefs caused his excommunication from the Greek Orthodox Church. Any of his works will do as a starting point, but The Fratricides is my favorite, but read any of his books for a singular Greek flavor with universal themes, including Freedom and Death, The Greek Passion, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Zorba the Greek, among others.
  5. D. H. Lawrence – An English novelist of sensuality, spirituality, and physicality, as evidenced in Lady Chatterley’s Lovers and Sons and Lovers.
  6. Henry Roth – Sure this literary genius had a 45-year case of writer’s block, but Call It Sleep, written when Roth was 27, is a masterpiece. Enough said.
  7. J. D. SalingerCatcher in the Rye, which I read in the eleventh grade, has had an enduring effect on me and most people who have read it, at least in the first 40 years since its publication in 1951. Also check out Salinger’s Nine Stories.
  8. John Steinbeck – He could describe people emerging from the Californian landscape as if they were one with the natural world. His narrative and characters in Tortilla Flat, Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and East of Eden are unforgettable.
  9. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. – His quirky blend of psychology, science fiction, and pop culture has enormous appeal with young readers. Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night, Cat’s Cradle, and Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade are good starting points.
  10. Richard WrightNative Son. Fear. Fate. Flight. Enough said. The great American novel.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

120 Influences, Part 1: Essayists

  1. James Baldwin – The preeminent black writer during the Civil Rights movement, Baldwin possessed a rich style, unorthodox and unpredictable viewpoints, and an unending commitment to social justice. Get started with his Collected Essays and The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings.
  2. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – This Claremont Graduate University professor and psychologist is the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, two seminal books on what makes the creative mind tick.
  3. Joan Didion – Considered by most to be a masterful sentence writer, Didion has been the go-to analyst of American culture for more than a half-century. Her We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction is a compilation of her first seven nonfiction books.
  4. Will Durant – His work on history and philosophy is nothing short of monumental. Most educated people do not read in a lifetime what this man wrote in his. Read his The Story of Philosophy and co-authored 11-volume magnum opus Story of Civilization, if you have the time.
  5. Albert Einstein – Don’t let the genius of this man fool you. Read Ideas and Opinions to see how well Einstein writes on so many topics.
  6. Edward T. Hall – This sociologist has volumes to say about how we communicate across cultures with and without language. Beyond Culture, The Silent Language, and The Hidden Dimension offer excellent insights into the human condition.
  7. Robert Hughes – This brilliant Australian’s essays sent me to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art on numerous occasions to see retrospectives of Richard Diebenkorn, Arthur Dove, Edward Keinholz, Bill Viola, and many other artists I would not have known if it were not for Hughes’s engaging prose. He writes expertly on politics (The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America) as well as art (Nothing Is Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists).
  8. Pauline Kael – She could be ruthless in her attacks on directors and actors, but she was always smart and entertaining. Kael was the movie critic of her generation to read, and her successors have borrowed immensely from her work Her 1991 5001 Nights at the Movies is an ultimate guide to the movies.
  9. Paul of Tarsus – Whether you are a believer or not, how can anyone living in a Western culture ignore Paul’s literature? The best way to get started on his contributions to the New Testament is at Bible Gateway.
  10. Thomas Sowell – Regardless of one’s politics, Thomas Sowell, Professor at Stanford University and Fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a mind to reckon with. Sowell has written prolifically anBulleted Listd masterfully on issues of racial equality, childhood development, and international politics for decades. Recommended are his Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, and A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.