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Was there ever a greater director than David Lean?


doctorxx
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I like Lean's films very much but think that he didn't make a masterpiece until A Passage to India. His early work, though impressive, was too talky (for example the overrated but enjoyable Great Expectations ). His epics -- Lawrence and Ryan -- were beautiful, important films to look at but could have been better. But by the time he made Passage, he had truly learned the language of cinema. I know of no other movie that is as true to the spirit of a great novel without necessarily always being true to the facts of the novel. And he beautifully retains and enhances the eternal mystery of what really happened in the caves.

 

So to answer your question, in my opinion, yes, there were greater directors than David Lean. But rarely has any director topped the achievement of A Passage to India.

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If there's ever a matter of pure subjectivity, it's got to be questions like this. Personally I'd take Kurosawa any day of the week and twice on Sunday, and I'd throw in Hitchcock, Rohmer, Hawks, and more than a few others on top of that. But it really boils down to of what sort of movies you like the best, doesn't it?

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Yes, I think relative greatness is certainly a matter of subjectivity. But there is a point at which art must be recognized and where the recognition of that transcends mere opinion. I've been re-watching Rohmer's film recently. What an incredible body of work!

 

But regarding A Passage to India (and Judy Davis), the cross-cutting between the scene of Davis on the witness stand, recanting her rape accusation, right after the shot of Peggy Ashcroft's casket being lowered into the sea -- is brilliant. As is the scene at the end of the film, of Davis at the window in London, gazing at the rain. Lean brilliantly demonstrates the possession of Judy by "goddess" Ashcroft in the one scene; and evokes Davis's great sacrifice in the other, bringing to mind Shakespeare's great words, "The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven... It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

 

One of the great mysteries of A Passage to India is whether a rape took place in the Marabar Caves. People have been arguing about that since the novel was published in 1924. Lean artfully allows that mystery to continue in his 1984 film. I'm of the opinion that Davis (as Adela) was indeed raped but becomes suffused with a very mysterious grace which causes her to recant her accusation in an incredible act of self-sacrifice. I think A Passage to India is to David Lean what The Dead is to John Huston: a towering work of art made by a director who made many great films but whose greatest achievement came at the very end of his career.

 

Happy New Year!

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First off, I don't think A Passage to India is that good a film. I think Lean became obssessed with the epic format, and there's no need to combine Madame Bovary with the Irish war of Independence, nor is there any reason to turn Forster's novel into one. I also don't think there is any reason to believe Adele Quested was raped.

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> Did he ever make a dud?

 

*Doctor Zhivago*.

 

I find *Lawrence of Arabia* tedious too. Erich von Stroheim would have had those desert shots 40 years earlier if wide-screen photography had been available when he was making *Greed*.

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I think this question is very relevant as it takes all kinds of directors to do all kinds of works. There's the great Frank Capra, the unmatched Alfred Hitchcock, Ernest Lubitch(sic), etc. I personally love David Lean. I believe he was a true artist and visionary and you can see it in all of his work. Just the expansionism is a wonder to behold. While I don't like to number people into categories I feel he would definitely be in my top seven.

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