There is a scene in the movie The Crow where Eric Draven, played by Brandon Lee, says “I thought I’d use your front door.” There is something about that line, which lies flat on the page, that kills me whenever I hear it. It is a response to Draven’s one friend saying, “Are you gonna vanish into thin air again?” When Draven answers he seems so hurt and childlike. You want to give him an ice cream cone and tell him everything will be alright.
A funny thing about movies, to me, is the “A Film by” credit. Before the titles, before the actors above the line, there is a credit to the director. The director also gets the Directed by credit at the very end of the titles too.
The A Film by credit for The Crow goes to Alex Proyas. The script was written by David Schow and John Shirley and based on a comic book by James O’Barr. Brandon Lee and Ernie Hudson were the actors in the scene. And IMDB lists a raft of cinematographers, editors, costumers, producers and the rest of the crew who made that scene come to life.
I can watch the movie. When I do I regret it was Lee’s final film role. I remind myself that I want to catch everything that Proyas directs. There are many weak moments in the show, but none when Lee is onscreen and it remains in my top 5 superhero movies of all time.
It was made by hundreds of people, but one single person gets the credit saying that it was a Film by. A person who never even appears on screen. This is weird because more than any other medium film is collaborative. No movie is made in isolation. In literature it is an artist alone with the blank page, in art the blank canvas. They work with others to bring their art to the public but it is created alone. Comics are often collaborative, but can also be the result of a singular vision. But not film…
It might be possible for an extremely experimental film to have one person write, direct, act in and shoot the same show, but that isn’t really film as we know it. So how does one person get the credit for it?
There are three ways to approach it. The first is simple. The film by credit is an extra credit negotiated by directors in their contract for the movie. It has less to do with art and more with money. The second is that it is a possessory credit showing the director’s overall ownership of the final product.
The third is the reason for the first two (or a reason that goes beyond vanity and money). The director is involved in it all. They provide notes to the actors and decide when a take is enough. They collaborate with the cinematograpers on lighting and camera shots. They help compose the scene. They approve the script. The costumes. The makeup.
And so much of a film is made in post-production. Editing, sound and music cues for effects and the score. Visual effects. The director provides direction and has the say for when each unit gets it right. All of it is invisible to the viewer… But if you watch two movies by the same good director you begin to see the impact they have.
This is called Auteur theory and is both widely accepted and highly controversial. That a film is hugely collaborative but is ultimately the result of a singular guiding hand.
Other films by Proyas include: Dark City, I, Robot and Knowing. None of those movie work for me nearly as well as The Crow, but I can see the guiding hand in each of them.
That all being said, I believe that The Crow was Brandon Lee’s movie. I first saw him in a film called Rapid Fire and I thought he had great potential as a star. I thought I saw that realized in The Crow, but I knew even as I was watching it for the first time that he had been accidentally killed during filming. Really the film is a schlocky revenge fantasy that is elevated by Lee’s presence. In my opinion at least.
But I’ll still continue to check out any additional movies Proyas directs…