Disappearing Acts

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There are filmmakers whose new works you await with baited breath. Something different from the mind of someone whose vision you respect and admire is always an exciting proposition. Unfortunately, sometimes that proposition takes the better part of a decade to be fulfilled. The complex set of processes that make up production can be unkind to anyone, but it seems especially so to those directors whose works historically hew toward more maverick sensibilities.

The following filmmakers have been away from features for far, far too long. Some have been linked to projects over the years since their last directorial venture, some have worked in TV or sold scripts on spec, some have simply fallen off the map. It could of course be by their choice they aren't behind the camera, but one would hope they haven't lost that passion yet. Regardless, the world of film would be better off if all were working much more often.

Scott Reynolds -- New Zealander Reynolds directed a trio of outstanding features between '97 and '01. 1997's The Ugly was a thoughtful, intricate twisting of the psychiatrist / serial killer sub-genre. Employing creative storytelling tactics and strong performances, both hallmarks of all of Reynolds' work, the film succeeds in spinning its material in new and fertile directions. 2001's When Strangers Appear is a kinetic ode to Hitchcock, complete with a MacGuffin a cast of then-up-and-comers (including Rahda Mitchell and Josh Lucas) would (and do) kill to possess. The high point, thus far, of Reynolds' oeuvre was '98's Heaven. An elliptical noir hinged on a pre-cognitive transvestite (yep), the film was inexplicably buried by Miramax after a strong reception on the festival circuit. Reynolds popped up in the credits of the Lord of the Rings films, receiving a "thanks", but has otherwise been MIA since Strangers.


Martin Murphy -- 2003's Lost Things, Murphy's only feature credit, is an existential chiller set on a secluded, sun-drenched beach in the director's homeland of Australia. Following four average teenagers anticipating a weekend of surfing and (if the boys have their way) sexual experimentation, the film throws a serious wrench into its protagonists' expectations in the form of a haggard drifter who menaces them first with worrisome questions about whether they feel a sense of déjà vu about their trip, and later with very real bouts of shocking violence. If M.R. James were alive and working today, Things is just the sort of dread-laced ghost story he'd be spinning. Murphy's grassroots production managed a home vid release across much of the globe but he hasn't been heard from since.

Michael Walker -- another filmmaker with a knock-out freshman feature who has yet to follow up, Walker delivered the superlative Chasing Sleep (previously pimped on Twitch by Kurt right here) waaay back in 2000. A strong performance by Jeff Bridges, as a college professor whose life and marriage appear threadbare from having unraveled so much, anchors Sleep's intentionally hazy examination of one man's slide into psychosis. Superb atmosphere and some disturbing set pieces (one involving a positively Cronenbergian mutant fetus which takes up residence in Bridges' bathtub) really push the film into rarified air for such a low-key production. Having helmed just one short film prior, Walker hasn't directed again.


The Hughes Brothers -- after making a serious mark with a collection of visually potent films beginning with 1993's Menace II Society, the Hughes Brothers haven't produced a feature since 2001's flawed but intriguing take on the Jack the Ripper legend, From Hell. For my money nothing matches the foreboding grindhouse-cum-arthouse mash up that is 1995's Dead Presidents, as much an examination of the impact of the Vietnam War on the African-American community and the failings of the Civil Rights movements as it is a tightly-wound heist film. Intelligently realized in all respects and interpreted with pathos by a strong ensemble, the film showed so much promise the four-year hiatus between it and their documentary American Pimp was puzzling to say the least. From Hell's chilly reception from both critics and the masses pushed the Hughes toward TV, where they produced the short-lived crime drama "Touching Evil" in 2004.

Larry Cohen -- an American original in every regard, Cohen worked his way up through the ranks of radio and TV to produce a body of work with so many highs and lows it's more than a little staggering. Quintessential '70s offerings like Bone and God Told Me To gave way to scathing satires of '80s consumer and celebrity culture in Q and The Stuff. In the '90s Cohen's directorial output slowed, and it had been 10 years since he'd been behind the camera before his contribution to the first season of Showtime's "Masters of Horror" series in 2006 (helming the effective serial killer romp "Pick Me Up," one of the bright points in an otherwise generally misbegotten enterprise). Having sold a slew of high-concept spec scripts in his later years (including Phone Booth and the recent, reportedly mangled-after-the-fact Captivity), Cohen continues to work but is sorely missed as a directorial presence.

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