Regular readers of this blog (and anyone who knows me) are aware of my obsession with two living filmmakers: Terrence Malick and Michael Mann. Unfortunately, Malick produces on average one film per decade, so that has forced me to spend a lot more time enthusing and discussing the work of Michael Mann.
Rob Beames and I will be recording a podcast this weekend discussing his work, and my capacity to explain why I think Michael Mann is so good will be put to the test, as Rob doesn't have such a high opinion of him. After making him watch all of the director's filmography, I am resigned to the fact that he'll never be the Mannista I am.
Orson Welles once said that a filmmaker should have the eye of a poet. Certainly Welles' own films, as flawed as many of them are, are pure poetic expressions of the themes that haunted him as an artist: betrayal, power, time, illusions. Mann's set of preoccupations are a little more specific, but no less valid: he has an almost fetishistic obsession with thieves specifically, and with men with strong work ethics more generally.
When I think of aueturs, I think of directors addressing the same concerns over and over again through different stories: Woody Allen talking about love and death in Manhattan, Bergman addressing the very meaning of life, Fellini dealing with the male Italian psyche, Kurosawa deconstructing Japanese society, Mike Leigh investigating families, Loach researching class warfare - all of these guys have their motifs. Mann, from his feature film debut, THIEF, has stuck to that very template; a man, good at this job, bound to no one, with a strong moral code, faces an adversary. Some might see that as repetitive, I find it fascinating.
His TV work is probably where he has made the most impact at least culturally; MIAMI VICE was THE show of the 1980s and the stylised mix of rock music and violence has pervaded (for better or worse) every level of TV and film. More significantly, artistically speaking is CRIME STORY, the sprawling saga of gangsters set in the early 1960s. Look out for it if you haven't seen it.
My first encounter with a Mann film was a late night TV showing of THE KEEP, which terrified me. He's basically disowned the film now and it's almost impossible to get hold of. From that job for hire to the pinnacle of his career, HEAT, my appreciation of his work extends all the way to last year's PUBLIC ENEMIES, which I found not only technically dazzling, but also moving and exciting. I can't wait for the next Mann project, and I live safe in the knowledge that he has another towering masterpiece like HEAT inside him, just waiting to come out.