by Sam Juliano
Who is the greatest genius the cinema has ever produced? This is not a question one can answer without considerable second-guessing, and one must first define the meaning of the word genius as it applies to the cinema. Does it mean the most influential artist, the must diverse, or the most intellectually challenging? Might it apply to the one who visited the most genres with equal success, like a Hawks or an Anthony Mann? Or perhaps the artist who combined best combined writing or directing like a Bergman or Bunuel? Avante garde and expressionist fans might well annoint Godard in this category. Or yet others might opt for an iconic composer, cinematographer or thespian. Perhaps the greatest genius is one that combined many talents. Or perhaps a producer like Disney, Selznick or Lewton might be under consideration. Maybe a dancer like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, or a multi-talented performer like Judy Garland? For engineering the single most astounding performance in cinema history, perhaps Rene Falconetti can be posed. Determinations will as always take in the unaccountable factor of personal taste.
In any case I am asking the readers here at WitD to name their candidate in the designated category of ‘The Greatest Genius the Cinema Has Produced.” Only one to a customer, though everyone is entitled to list a Top Ten, if they so choose. But in explaining your decision, only talk about your #1 choice.
To crown my own winner, I will borrow here from my own report last year at a Film Forum Festival:
“He is in my carefully considered opinion the greatest versatile genius the cinema has ever produced, and on a list of my favorites may well rank as my top choice, (depending on what day of the week I am asked the question. Ingmar Bergman is the one who seems to alternate with him, but both Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson and even Carl Dreyer are with them at the pinnacle) No film artist has engaged me as thoroughly, no comic has made me laugh as much, no humanist has brought more tears, no technical genius -not even Keaton- has caused me to marvel just how much acrobatic brilliance can come from a single person. He was the consumate genius, writing and directing his films, serving as the main star, and to boot, writing his own music, some of which includes some of the finest compositions of the century. Michael Jackson’s favorite ‘song’ of all time is “Smile” from Modern Times, and the overwhelming poignancy of the music he wrote for the final flower girl scene in City Lights (his greatest film across the board) is the perfect embodiment of theme expressed in music. His physical agility, his astute understanding of the human condition, and his uncanny sense of timing all are part of this Shakespeare of film, the single man who set the standard that has not subsequently been equalled. If by now the name of Charles Spencer Chaplin has not been figured, well then the reader is from another planet.”
–from “The Multi-Faceted Genius of Charles Chaplin, Wonders in the Dark, 8/16/10
My Top Ten:
1.) Charles Chaplin
2.) Ingmar Bergman
3.) Yashijiro Ozu
4.) Orson Welles
5.) Bernard Herrmann
6.) Robert Bresson
7.) Sir Lawrence Olivier
8.) Buster Keaton
9.) Carl Theodor Dreyer
10.) Walt Disney
I wanted to get a woman in, but just missed with Katherine Hepburn and Judy Garland, and I was pained to say nothing particularly of Murnau, Eisenstein, Hitchcock, Powell & Pressburger, De Sica, Fellini, Renoir, S. Ray, Bunuel, Lang, Mizoguchi, Ford, Lubitsch, Toland, Cardiff, Ophuls, Steiner, James Cagney, and and those Japanese divas among others.
So again, who is your #1 film genius of all-time and why? Remember, it can be a director, producer, actor, actress, writer, composer, set designer, technician or any combination of all crafts. Please talk a bit about your top choice and list a top ten if you wish.