Quentin Tarantino recently stated that he would like to retire after his 10th film because he's afraid that he'll get old and, to put it bluntly, start to suck. Though in all likelihood he'll probably continue making movies by breaking into Harvey Keitel's bathroom and shouting "Action!" into his asshole. Some directors become revolutionary forces in cinema only to end their careers as pitiful imitations of the artists they once were. Or they create Manos: The Hands of Fate and just ride that horse off the cliff from the very beginning.
But that brings up an interesting question for those of us who aren't nipples-deep in the industry: Why do formerly great directors decline into Santa Buddies (which is Hollywood jargon for "shit" that I just invented)? The answers are probably a lot more simple than we think.
5They Lose Interest
Recently, I rewatched a bunch of John Carpenter films because I have to do it every decade in order to rejuvenate my centuries-old flesh, and I am convinced that he is the greatest fantasy filmmaker who has ever lived. They Live is a hilarious, piercing criticism of the Reagan years. Assault on Precinct 13 is proof of Intelligent Design. Halloween is the structural blueprint for any horror film made after Halloween. Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China are the two coolest ideas to be formed by a human brain and are the words that Kurt Russell whispers in your ear as his hand moves up your thigh. And The Thing is an orgasm in movie form. It's the greatest achievement in history, and I'm willing to make that claim until Eva Green shows up at my apartment to record a commentary of Deadwood with me.
But, as it's been frequently documented, Carpenter hasn't had the easiest time bringing his projects to fruition, whether it be due to budgetary differences or creative ones. It's relatively easy to convince people to get behind a film about people doing ninja stuff (as in Big Trouble in Little China). If your script includes copious punching, kicking, and flipping, movie executives view it almost as a peace treaty because their job is now 99 percent finished. But when the other parts of the film deal with a John Wayne parody who isn't really good at anything except throwing a knife back into someone's head, you encounter a few obstacles. These obstacles are mainly people saying, "I don't know if people are going to get this. Why is the main character so dumb? He should be smart, like the guys in Top Gun. People LOVED Top Gun. You should make Top Gun."
But ... but ... the knife thing. Did you not see the knife thing?
Since Carpenter involved himself so heavily in the creation of his films, often serving as director, screenwriter, editor, and composer, it was only a matter of time before he burnt out like a lit fart from Larry the Cable Guy's rectum-shaped joke bin. If you need a less disturbing visual representation of this moment, imagine a clock with both hands steadily ticking toward the words "FUCK IT."
That's why, in films like Village of the Damned, Ghosts of Mars, and The Ward, Carpenter appears to be running on auto-pilot. In particular, The Ward, which was hyped as Carpenter's big return to the genre that made him famous, is, with the exception of a few sequences, lazily formed and insubstantial. Carpenter has said multiple times that he'd much rather be playing video games and watching basketball than making movies that he isn't extremely interested in, and I support this. After what he's given us, he deserves to be giggling through the Tiny Tina missions of Borderlands 2.
4They Attempt Awful Passion Projects
Passion projects are always a gamble, because your intentions might not align very well with what an audience is willing to accept. For instance, I've pitched "10 Nude Photos That Daniel Dockery Doesn't Want You to See! (Tee Hee)" here every week for the past year, and I'm just now starting to figure out why Cracked has sent me a cease and desist letter at the exact same frequency.
It makes it easier if you're someone like Steven Spielberg, who can say, "Yeah, I'll make this dinosaur blockbuster and its sequel about adding more dinosaurs, but what I'd REALLY like to do is an Oscar-worthy movie about the Holocaust that lacks vapid self-indulgence." It's because of this kind of success that, if he woke up today and announced, "I want to make a documentary about people who kick dead rats down the sidewalk because I'm REALLY interested in the culture of that," 2016 would see the release of Floprat Gigglestorm.
"I shall name you 'Ammunition.'"
Jay-Z and Kanye West's song "That's My Bitch" is actually a subtle metaphor for Francis Ford Coppola's relationship to the 1970s. In the space of four films (the first two Godfather films, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now), Coppola cemented his legacy. All four films were critically lauded and very successful, with the exception of The Conversation, which still had a box-office gross that tripled its original budget. If the worst failure that you make within the span of 10 years is only about 300 percent successful, your biggest problem is deciding which manservant carries the short sword and which carries the trident when you pit them against each other in gladiatorial combat for your own amusement. Therefore, it's only ironically appropriate that Coppola's next film was a musical entitled One From the Heart. He couldn't have set himself up for defeat harder if he'd made a silent film entitled The Thing That Francis Ford Coppola Has Been Dreaming of Since His Grandmother Told Him the Plot With Her Dying Breath.
One From the Heart had a total gross of $636,796, with a budget of $26 million. I tried to figure out how to calculate that, exactly, but after I pressed the equals key, "Sell the house" is all that showed up on the screen. It caused Coppola to go bankrupt and, with the exception of films like The Godfather: Part III, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Bram Stoker's Dracula, most of his filmography hasn't done much to rectify that. It certainly didn't help that most of these movies have limited audience appeal. Surprisingly enough, the human population wasn't scrambling over itself to see Rumble Fish, a black-and-white, film-noir-esque movie with Mickey "Whether I'll Be Good in This Is Entirely Up to Chance" Rourke as the lead.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Above: Rourke enjoying a smoke and a dog he found between scenes.
The past few years haven't been kind to Coppola, either, since he began his commitment to producing his own films, as Tetro and Twixt both under-performed, and even the best reviews of them amount to "Uh, maybe?" I hope you're happy, fate-controlling deity that Coppola pissed off after the production of Apocalypse Now. You've made your fucking point already.