I recently had the pleasure of attending the Martin Scorsese exhibition at Melbourne’s ACMI, which showcased his early influences and home life before moving onto his technical craftsmanship and the passionate themes that resonate through his more intense offerings. In the moments I wasn’t totally swept away in Bernard Herrmann’s Theme from Taxi Driver, I reflected on his longstanding partnership with Robert De Niro (and to a lesser extent DiCaprio) and considered how much they shaped each others artistic expression and professional lives.
As an extension of this, below are my picks for the best director/actor partnerships.
5. Paul Thomas Anderson and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), The Master (2012)
Not often the leading man, Hoffman excelled in supporting roles in his work with Anderson, where he was given all the time he needed to make such an emotional impact you could be forgiven for thinking he was the headliner. This is no more evident than in the exquisite Magnolia, where his character bares such a toll and shares it with all of us.
4. Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski
Aquirre, Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Herzog had the vision and Kinski the abandonment of inhibitions; together they shaped what German cinema would be known for in expressive and often exhausting journeys. Nosferatu the Vampyre is more tender and painted like a watercolour, but an accumulation of intense works strained the relationship of the collaborative duo.
3. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell
Elvis (1979), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Escape from L.A. (1996)
Cool in the dictionary should be described as the result of combining Carpenter and Russell, with the two turning New York into a maximum security prison with the eye-patch-wearing anti-hero Snake Plissken sent in to save the President, an Antarctic research station into a paranoid nightmare, Little China into a mythical realm where magic, martial arts and Kim Cattrall rein supreme and L.A. into the new destination for surfing.
2. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro
Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1982), Goodfellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), Casino (1995)
The definitive pairing to show how two auteurs can push each-other to new heights, demanding excellence and commitment to pushing new ground. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas are so multi-layered that its easy to forget the jolting violence that is placed precisely to announce the ugliness of the subject matters; a masterful strategy and just one of many reasons why this partnership is considered among the very best.
1. John Ford and John Wayne
Stagecoach (1939), Three Godfathers (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956), The Horse Soldiers (1959), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
The above films and more highlight a longstanding and dedicated pairing that represented the American West and all its vistas in a personal yet sweeping manner, reaching its pinnacle with the seminal, thematic The Searchers which followed previous classics She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Three Godfathers. Peckinpah and Leone tried valiantly, but Ford won the West and Wayne led the charge.
Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi
Deep Red (1975), Inferno (1980), Tenebre (1982), Phenomena (1985), Opera (1987)
Meeting during the making of Deep Red and marrying shortly thereafter, Argento and Nicolodi’s relationship was a volatile one, with the director not afraid her write her particularly grisly deaths, including being butchered by a razor wielding chimpanzee in Phenomena and shot through the eye while peering through a key hole in the glorious Opera. Their creativity best combined in the creation of the supernatural horror masterpiece Suspiria, with her ideas and his execution ensuring it remains to this day one of the quintessential offerings in the genre.
Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell
The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), Army of Darkness (1992)
Campbell also features in Crimewave, Darkman, The Spiderman trilogy and Oz The Great and Powerful, but it was the cult phenomenon The Evil Dead and its subsequent beloved sequels that launched the careers of the two high-school mates and collaborators. Raimi’s directorial style remains as energetic now as his gory beginnings, and Campbell continues to charm his way into living rooms across the globe with his work on television.
David Lynch and Laura Dern
Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), Inland Empire (2006)
Lynch famously pioneered for an Academy Award for the fearless actress he was so taken with, and those Inland Empire devotees certainly would’ve endorsed it. When you consider the palpable heaviness evident in these films, its no wonder that their partnership hasn’t produced more; her importance to the idealistic innocence portrayed in Blue Velvet though in particular proves they’re deserving of appearing here.