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Maverick Directors vs. Hollywood Studios

Robert Altman was a maverick artist who revelled in the conflict with the studio bosses and was not afraid to bite the hand that fed him. He was part of a long tradition of complaining about the boss, following in the footsteps of visionaries such as D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. These directors spent much of their careers trying to establish financial and creative autonomy from the moguls who regarded the studios as their own personal fiefdoms. Unfortunately, dealing with the studio heads' peccadillos has been the lot of the Hollywood hired hand for decades.

Erich Von Stroheim is credited with inventing the cliche of the director as a tortured genius who was misunderstood and whose work was mutilated by the bean-counters at head office. Orson Welles may be the most famous example of a maverick snuffed out by studio interference and indifference, but there are plenty of other candidates. Sam Fuller, Raoul Walsh, John Ford, and Howard Hawks were all head-strong alpha males who helped to define the Hollywood maverick as a hard man who stamped his personal vision on an otherwise anonymous studio product. John Huston, a boxing champion, notorious gambler, and legendary drinker, also regularly fell foul of the front office. He was given carte blanche to make the civil war pic Red Badge Of Courage (1951), but while he was away filming The African Queen (1951), MGM production chief Dore Schary brutally re-cut the film and added a cliché-riddled voiceover.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, the mavericks briefly took over the asylum. This period was marked by the arrival of a new generation of Hollywood directors, idiosyncratic talents like Bob Rafelson, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Hal Ashby, and Francis Ford Coppola. These so-called "movie brats" were given unusual levels of autonomy by the studios, but even then, controversial director Sam Peckinpah still fought against the system. From the moment he was shut out of the editing suite of his own film, Ride The High Country (1962), he was locked in a near-permanent war with the studios. When he saw the producer's cut of his thriller The Getaway (1972), Peckinpah apparently shouted "This is not my picture!" and urinated all over the screen. And when he realized that they were going to butcher his elegiac Western, Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973), he broke into the studio at night and stole a preview print.

The Rebel in Hollywood
Sam Peckinpah

Ironically, it was the phenomenal success of two movies made by the "New Hollywood" generation themselves that brought the curtain down on their golden age. The box-office triumphs of Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) and George Lucas's Star Wars (1977) signalled the advent of the modern blockbuster, and the studio empire struck back. The last post finally sounded for the wild bunch when the infamously profligate director Michael Cimino brought United Artists to its knees with the box-office disaster Heaven's Gate (1980), and the accountants increasingly tightened their grip.

The relationship between the directors and the studio bosses hasn't always hinged upon the simple equation of mavericks = good, studios = bad, however. Hollywood can impose much-needed discipline on a mercurial talent. Jules Dassin, for instance, helmed some of the most deftly plotted, tautly executed, and evocatively photographed noirs in film history, including Thieves' Highway (1949) and Night And The City (1950), while he was under contract with Fox and Universal. But

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