Cassavetes wrestled with angels like a cinematic Jacob (industry devils, too) and for his trials was heralded the Patron Saint of independent film. His genius for the genuine disarms and overwhelms. He hurls us headlong into maelstroms of emotion unbalancing expectations and sorely testing our endurance (see the wake in Husbands or the party scenes in Faces). He challenges us to follow the fancy tonal footwork of Nick and Mabel Longhetti, constantly bobbing, weaving and turning on a dime. And beneath the brawling chaos, his profound understanding of Life as eternal process, struggle and improvisation–acting as a crucible for truth.
Wong mocks the coolness of detached posturing and the poverty of everyday experience through ravishing visual splendor. His exquisitely beautiful stars are sketched in anachronistic relief–dressed in the styles of a nostalgic past or revealed in disembodied voice-over—to give the impression of vivid but disappointing dreams. The sensual modulation of his neon palette and his musical editing style lend texture and felt rhythm to his best works like Happy Together and In the Mood for Love where the intimate dance of attraction and repulsion is experienced through inspired tango stylings and Nat King Cole’s cool baritone.
The melancholy gay Mozart of New German Cinema. Fassbinder’s prodigious genius yielded an astounding 42 features in only 13 years. Despite ceaseless experimentation across a range of genre, discursive melodrama best served the tension between his seething contempt for bourgeois hypocrisy and his infinite tenderness for his tragic protagonists—compelled by their natures to seek love and do right but restrained at every turn by social, moral and sexual forces beyond their control. In masterpieces like Ali and 13 Moons, Fassbinder utilized static blocking and intricately staged visual tableaus to conjure perhaps the saddest framing in all of cinema.
Akerman is a genius of the performative mode. Meaning is bodily, whether between bodies like the lovers wrestling in je, tu, il, elle, or bodies in isolation like the titular heroines in Jeanne Dielman and Les rendez-vous d’Anna. Anna lies in bed alone or looks out of hotel room windows like a woman in a Hopper painting. Toute une nuit explores the embrace; couples fall together like Pina Bausch choreography. Empty rooms and public spaces wait for people to occupy them. When action is so thoroughly minimal, little things become events. Jeanne misses a button, and that tells the story.
The most daring inventor in the medium—or, more accurately, its most potent minimalist—and supreme exemplar of the visionary mode. Forsaking emotive acting, expressionistic mise-en-scene or visual/narrative explicitness, Bresson’s austere cinema of hands, passageways and disembodied sounds reveals spiritual essences through material substance. In Au Hasard Balthazar, a donkey serves as proxy for human suffering. In Pickpocket, dexterous hands perform a redemptive ballet. Behavior, bodies and sounds become freshly reinvigorated in his works. We not only learn to see with new eyes but, in the tension between alienation and immediacy, cultivate a physical awareness of the human spirit.