Thursday, February 18, 2010

"24 / 7, rockin' this metropolis..."

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints raised a pretty good question: is Dito Montiel a good director, or does he merely have good taste? After all, the man cast Robert Downey, Jr. as himself and had Eric Gautier photograph what's essentially a personal creation myth. Fighting makes the answer pretty clear: good director.

What makes a "good director" anyway? Well, you could say that a "good director" is the sort of person who creates his or her own definition of directing and fulfills all of its requirements. They may not have a definition of cinema, but they hold themselves accountable to their own conception of directing. With Montiel, a director's contribution to mise-en-scene and decoupage is observation. He knows what little details should be visible in the frame, and where the camera should be pointed to catch glimmers of city life. The actors may be pretending to be locals, but the director "knows the place." Its inconceivable that Montiel would make a film outside of New York, or that he'd write a script about people he didn't think were at least a little like him.


Like a lot of people I know who dig Fighting (and probably a lot more I don't), I'm kinda obsessed with its opening credits sequence. It's only about a minute long and real simple, just title cards, shots, cuts and a track with that one sick Delfonics beat. The voices are barely even rapping; really, they're just giving us the setting. It's got most of the film's virtues: economical bombast, a fine eye for cuts and an encyclopedic knowledge of its setting. All that's missing is Terrence Howard's performance, the best of his career, and the gentleness with which the movie handles its characters. In a little less than two dozen shots (some of them aerial, others B-roll footage shot on the streets while filming scenes that come later in the movie), we see a city progressing from daytime bustle to evening quiet to nighttime jazz to morning solidarity.

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