It occurs to me that, despite helping to kick off the Blockbuster Era, in which money-making concerns came to the fore in moviemaking once more, Star Wars is among the last of the great movies out of the Auteur Era. Lucas had his vision for a great story and the movie was his idea, his initiative as it began, developing from his interpretation of literary theory, and shaped from there.
And ever since then he has not ceased to meddle with his greatest creation after it was published, but has altered its look and its tone time and again, hoping to get things just right at last. But he was a visionary, and as he was unable to let go of that way of life. He was not and never will be satisfied.
His actions since 1983 have demonstrated the downsides of the Auteur Method for modern audiences. Imagine having to work with a director who seeks perfection, and tells you to do your lines again, and again, and again, a hundred times until they are either satisfied or exhausted -- never mind if you're exhausted. So it went with everyone who had the misfortune of acting before Stanley Kubrick. And Josef Sternberg. And William Wyler. And Charlie Chaplin. I was low-balling the number of takes. Chaplin did six hundred for one scene.
Nor was it especially easy to deal with Alfred Hitchcock, whose treatment of his female actresses could be quite vindictive; nor any particular director who gave so little credit to the skill of acting itself that they would rather achieve an "authentic response" by putting their actors in real physical danger. Or, as was so often the case, excruciating torment. Kubrick tried to get an "authentic" exhaustion out of Shelly Duval by making everyone else on set be very cold to her amid her ongoing physical exhaustion. Likewise Chaplin and Sternberg were deliberately cruel to their actors.
Even if the director doesn't pull that kind of crap it's possible for an Auteur-driven project to go way over time and budget and make the entire production a misery. If you were signing onto a big-name Francis Ford Coppola production in the 1970s you were in for hell. Oh boy, we're filming the Vietnam War on location, that can't possibly go wrong.
With Quentin Tarantino you mostly have to worry about getting covered in fake blood and making sure your feet look nice.
You get all these visionary film makers and they let things go to their heads! And they let budgets run wild and never suffer criticism! Kind of like me writing all kinds of things that start out short and then turn into entire essays. I have no editor, just an audience. So when I write stuff on Facebook it gets nearly too long for the box and there's a visual lag in my typing. It's easy to get a swelled head when you're the one solely In Charge of making something.
Even more easy when you're In Charge of making a movie, because there are so very many moving parts, people to please, people to shut up, and normally a director is but one decision-maker among many, all of whom have competing ideas so that the final product is different than what anyone thought of at first, like how any group project works without a clear hierarchy for decision-making, only worse because it's Hollywood and everyone is bullshitting everyone else. Imagine being granted Complete Control over something you know is normally a chaos of squabbling. How easy it is to feel like a King!
And then there is Guillermo del Toro, who is...is not that sort of fellow. He is not an Awful Prima Donna. I can find no complaints from anyone about him. In fact the article on Student Edge about interviewing with him has Steven S. DeKnight saying that Del Toro is "gracious and supportive". The only part of Del Toro's work I have found to be anything close to the Tormenting Director is the part of Pacific Rim where the Jaeger sets for the pilots were real and utterly exhausting to work in. Yet in that same time, Del Toro inspired Rinko Kikuchi to keep working in the things for twelve hours by singing her the Totoro theme...in Japanese.
The same page on TVtropes says that everyone loves working with the man. He is as much a visionary as George Lucas, but he is not an awful man like Stanley Kubrick. He does not torment or terrify his actors to squeeze authentic performances out of them. He does not put their lives in danger. He does not try to destroy the careers of actors who Defy Him.
To be fair, neither does George Lucas. Not that he is entirely nice compared to Del Toro, because he made Carrie Fisher lose weight for the role of Princess Leia, flim-flammed her into not wearing a bra on set because it would "strangle her in space", and made her wear that Slave Leia getup that she didn't want to, and yet -- compared to the directors who force their actresses to go topless, this is still tame.
I am tempted to speculate about why Guillermo Del Toro is a nice fellow and the other Auteurs are not, but I do not need to. I think that Del Toro is not an outlier at all. He is one big-name director among many these days who are not awful to work with at all. Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan and The Coen Brothers and The Wachowski Sisters and Peter Jackson and Judd Apatow and Joss Whedon and Taka Waititi and Patty Jenkins and so on and so forth. The common theme in the descriptions of their working styles is that they communicate with their actors closely to get a good performance and know how to be personable on set in order to get everyone on the same page.
I think Kubrick and Chaplin and people like them were ordering a zillion takes because they simply didn't know how to communicate with their actors about the performances they were looking for. Maybe they didn't even know how to describe it until they saw it. A very brute-force approach to directing, in which the actors are basically battered into shape.
There are far more good Auteurs these days than there were bad ones in the 1970s, and for all I know there were more good ones in the 1970s too. I don't think it was ever necessary to be a Dictatorial Director. People like Kubrick just didn't want to believe that anyone besides them could have Vision.
I have not mentioned Roman Polanski yet because I have not heard anything about how he was a mean director. The only story I or anyone really remembers about him is the fact that he boned a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s. This was the same era in which Rock Stars like Jimmy Page were...having their way...with adoring young female fans...and everyone looked the other way, not just because of money but because of Fame, Connections, the charisma of glory. These girls were, in fact, throwing themselves AT the rock stars, many of them, and if they didn't have a clue what they were getting into, perhaps their mothers who drove them there very well DID...so it is easier to understand how on earth Jimmy Page managed to keep Lorri Maddox kidnapped and hidden for so long, and how Roman Polanski keeps getting awards. One might say the Rock Stars of the mid 20th century and the Auteur Directors of the same period grew out of the same notion, that the best artwork comes from singular vision, so everyone must defer to the artist and let them become tyrants.
Modern auteur-directors appear to remain humble by letting their work be at least a little collaborative, much in the manner of how a democracy that works according to consensus and honest input works much more efficiently than a dictatorship. Poor Shelly Duval had to deal with a Director who thought dictatorship was more efficient. He was wrong and he hurt people. I will not laud Stanley Kubrick nor men like him, no matter what film they make. True Art is not worth the price of people getting hurt. On the contrary, keeping the actors safe is worth the price of sacrificing one's vision.
I will cast a wary glance at Guillermo Del Toro for choosing to do such an exhausting physical set for Pacific Rim. Everyone besides Kikuchi came out of those things utterly beaten down. I do wish Del Toro had come up with something less difficult. Yet this is one black mark on Del Toro's record, compared to Kubrick's record, whose black marks completely obscure the page.