On this day in 1921, the great American film director George Roy Hill was born. I always associate him with William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade. The entire chapter on directors consists of the following sentence, “Some of my best friends are directors.” This sentence did have a footnote where Goldman explained that directing was a hard job — not like a theoretical physicist’s job is hard, but like a coal miner’s job is hard. And he noted that directors help everyone involved in the production. His point was that we have mythologized directors and that given all the other creative minds on a film, the director is not that important. He has a vision of the film director that is more like that of a theater director: the person who manages all the creative activity. I agree with this vision to a large extent. And this is the kind of director that George Roy Hill was.
To a large extent, the film directors who are considered “auteurs” are generally the ones who talk a certain way. There is no doubt that someone like Jon Jost absolutely is the author of his own films. But it is hard to make that claim even for David Cronenberg, much less Martin Scorsese. This doesn’t say anything about the quality of the films these three men make — they all produce films that are without exception worth making and are sometimes great. But $100 million budgets are collaborations. Regardless, I don’t think that Scorsese has a more distinctive visual style than Hill does.
Of course, the thing is that Hill does have a distinctive style. Or rather: his films have a distinctive visual style. It is just that no one fetishizes that style. But as a result of that, Hill’s films tend to age better. I know for a lot of people, Goodfellas is a favorite film. To me, it is almost un-watchable; it is filled with tricks that Scorsese would (gratefully) eventually get over or refine. (I think Scorsese is at his best in films like The Age of Innocence and Bringing Out the Dead and Kundun.) Hill doesn’t have that problem.
So let’s look at a few of his classic films — and I will be ignoring a number of others! First is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — one of the greatest westerns ever made. (I want to say “the greatest” but that’s hard.) In a sense, that is William Goldman’s film, because it is drenched in his sensibility. Just the same, it looks and feels like a Hill film. It was a collaboration of a lot of great people, including Burt Bacharach. But Hill brought it all together in a film I still love watching.
Do I need to mention The Sting? Maybe we should just move on to The Great Waldo Pepper. When I was a kid, I didn’t much like it. But it ages well. Also: it helps to be an adult. This trailer makes it seem like it’s a comedy, but it really isn’t. It’s an interesting film about a man trying to find meaning in life. But it is done in a very Hollywood (false) way:
Other films that are well worth watching include: Slap Shot, A Little Romance, and The Little Drummer Girl. I will say nothing about the Chevy Chase film, because I haven’t seen it. But let’s take a look at The World According to Garp, which is still a joy to watch:
Happy birthday George Roy Hill!