“A film is a ribbon of dreams. The camera is much more than a recording apparatus; it is a medium via which messages reach us from another world that is not ours and that brings us to the heart of a great secret. Here magic begins.”
Thus spake the late, great Orson Welles, a man who knew more than most (at least, in his younger days) about why cinema was and is the most vibrant expression of creativity on the planet.
The best directors tend to be those, be they a Spielberg, Kubrick, Von Trier or Truffaut, who do not lose the sense of awe that childhood and being young inspire, and who are able to translate this into shared experience for all people, for all times.
And there is no doubt that the young, and young at heart, are still responding to the art form – a recent study, conducted by Time in the US, found that 30 days after studying a book, children remember only 30% of what they could recall the next morning. However, three months after seeing a film, they remembered 90% of what they were able to describe the morning after. In the US, the number of young people who visit the cinema every week is around 28 million and, of these, 11 million are under 14.
At a European level (Eurostat 2006) more than 82% of 16- to 24-year-olds went to see at least one film in the study reference year, a share that was twice high as for those aged 30 and over.
In 17 European countries, more than 50% of young Europeans aged 16–24 went to the cinema between one and six times in the year preceding the survey. Moreover, in Belgium, Ireland, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Austria and Iceland more than 35 % of people in this age bracket went to the cinema more than six times per year. To a lesser extent, cinema was also popular among young people aged 25–29 – in all countries under review, more than 40% of people aged 25-29 went to the cinema at least once in the year preceding the survey. In Ireland, Spain and Luxembourg, respectively 29%, 33% and 35% of the population aged 25–29 went to see seven or more films in the year preceding the survey.
It has been found that onscreen sex is most disturbing to cinema addicts aged 16, cinemas excite children three times more than adults, and girls who have been ‘led astray’ in life believe that cinema was a contributory factor to their tough times.
No country for old men?
On both sides of the Atlantic, hiring young directors, who are far more likely to be in touch with their peers’ tastes, senses and sensibilities, is becoming ever more the norm – many of today’s top filmmakers began shooting features when they were young. Taking a random sample of directors who broke through in the 1990s and 2000s – many of them were about 30 when their first features came out: Keenen Ivory Wyans (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988)), Michael Bay (Bad Boys (1995)), David Fincher (Alien 3 (1992)), and Spike Jones (Being John Malkovich (1999)). A little older on their debuts were Alex Proyas at 31 (The Crow (1994)), Cameron Crowe at 32 (Say Anything (1989)), James Mangold at 32 (Heavy (1995)), Karyn Kusuma at 32 (Girlfight (2000)), McG at 32 (Charlie’s Angels (2000)), David Koepp at 33 (The Trigger Effect (1996)), Allison Anders at 33 (Border Radio (1987)) and Mark Neveldine at 33 (Crank (2006)).
And these, in fact, are the older examples – there are numerous current directors who completed their first feature in their twenties. Quentin Tarantino, Reginald Hudlin, Roger Avary, and Joe Carnahan began aged 29, Sofia Coppola and Brett Ratner at 28, and Peter Jackson and F. Gary Gray were a mere 26.
Fancy some (perhaps) even more famous names to round out the list? OK.
Dementia 13 (1963): Francis Ford Coppola, 24. (You’re a Big Boy Now was released when Coppola was 27.)
Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967): Martin Scorsese, 25.
Dark Star (1974): John Carpenter, 26.
THX 1138 (1971): George Lucas, 27.
Night of the Living Dead (1968): George Romero, 28.
The Sugarland Express (1974): Steven Spielberg, 28. If you count the TV feature Duel, subtract three years.
Targets (1968): Peter Bogdanovich, 29.
Dillinger (1973): John Milius, 29.
Blue Collar (1978): Paul Schrader, 32.
Good Times (with Sonny and Cher) (1967): William Friedkin, 32.
Easy Rider (1969): Dennis Hopper, 33.
It’s simple, really – Hollywood and European film studios were essentially run by the old men, who had brought the system to the brink of collapse. The twentysomethings tore down the barricades and made a place for young filmmakers – and guess what? They’re still here today and, for the good of our collective “ribbon of dreams”, long may that continue.