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Pictorialist filmmakers

Several film directors are noted for the rich, complex pictorial beauty they bring to the films they direct. Several of these filmmakers influenced each other. We can arrange these filmmakers into groups, showing how their influence passed from one to another. In doing so, we get the following tree:

John Ford

Josef von Sternberg

New Wave Left Bank

Modern Pictorialists

The above tree graphically illustrates the following ideas:

Mizoguchi was a great admirer of Sternberg. He screened his films for Sternberg when Sternberg visited Japan in the 1930s. Their films have great pictorial similarity. Similarly, Curtis Harrington also worked in the tradition of Sternberg, according to his writings and interviews. The camera movements in Ophuls recall Sternberg. Minnelli referred to Ophuls as his spiritual father as a filmmaker. Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark seems Ophuls-inspired. Paradjanov's The Color of Pomegranates recalls Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. I think modern filmmakers such as Tran Anh Hung and Zhang Yimou seem part of this tradition, but this is just my idea.

Among early filmmakers, John Ford seems like a strongly pictorial filmmaker. His work seems to emerge in parallel to Sternberg's. Jacques Tourneur's films seem to show pictorial qualities in common with Ford's. These include long perspective shots down roads and corridors.

A third tradition: that of the Left Bank subgroup of the French New Wave.


Trees are in heavy use today by biologists, who view them as part of the technique of "Cladistics", and by computer scientists, who use similar concepts.

Biologists arrange plants and animals into trees, showing their evolutionary relationships. They also list common characteristics of plants and animals in different sections of the trees. Cladistic thought is now nearly universal among biologists, and very heavily employed. It is close to the concept of Object-Oriented programming, in wide use among computer scientists. Despite this popularity in computers and biology, people in the arts seem nearly unfamiliar with these ideas.

Advantages of Trees

Trees are very easy to understand. You can see at a glance all of the members of a tree, and their inter-relationships. This makes them a good communication device.

Filmmaker trees might be especially useful at teaching newcomers about cinema history. Even little kids would have no trouble grasping the above tree. They might also be helpful in communicating with scholars in other disciplines. Suppose one is talking with an art historian who has little background in film, and the art historian asks you about your research. One can say, "I am researching Pictorialist Filmmakers", and show the historian the tree. It makes the subject immediately clear and vivid.

Many people who like one director on the above tree, like many others. For example, Andrew Sarris has written books about Ford and Sternberg. This is also an indication of their common characteristics.

Many current film books organize directors into categories based on nationality and era. There are American silent directors, Japanese directors of the 1950's, and so on. These categories tend to disguise common artistic aspects of filmmakers and their works. Tran Anh Hung's films remind one of Minnelli's. It might be better to think of them as part of an artistic category like Pictorialist Films, rather than in such national or chronological terms.

Disadvantage of Trees

A tree like this can imply that there is nothing original or individual about filmmakers. It tends to show what filmmakers have in common, not their individual qualities. In this sense, they violate the key idea of auteurism. Hopefully, most people will be sophisticated enough to look at a tree, and realize that at best, it is only showing a partial truth.

The Realist Tradition

D. W. Griffith

All of the above men made realistic films, set among the poor, the working class and the dispossessed. Their films often contain intense looks at human beings as a source of feeling and moral value, in a difficult world. Many have much to say about religion, and have an intensely religious view of life. Many made anti-war films.

In Raoul Walsh's case, the working class characters are often a group of soldiers or gangsters. This tends to disguise his affinities with this group.

In his writings, Tag Gallagher has suggested a different approach. He thinks that King Vidor directly inspired the Italian Neorealists, such as Visconti and Rossellini. He may well be right. This is a reminder that no such simple tree can capture all the influences at work within a group of filmmakers.

Trees of Mystery Writers

Articles on the Mystery web site contain Trees of Mystery Writers and characteristics of Sub-Groups of the Realist School. The article on Dashiell Hammett organizes his works into categories: please the section entitled "A Typology of Hammett's Plots". The article does not contain an actual tree diagram, but uses cladistic ideas.