David Lean, Perfectionist of Madness

David Lean was famous for his perfectionism, and like every director afflicted with that quality he didn’t — couldn’t — make perfect movies. His films betray the anxiety of their making. He also couldn’t make many. He completed just 16 in his long career, a paltry 4 in the 30-plus years that followed the great international success of his wartime epic “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957). That movie ends, after nearly three hours of conflict, peril, courage, violent death and decidedly mixed motives, with a single summarizing word, spoken twice: the word is “madness.”

And if you were to watch all 16 of David Lean’s pictures, being shown at Film Forum’s centennial retrospective (through Sept. 25), you might find that word echoing in your head even as you’re admiring their impeccable craftsmanship: the precise editing, the elegant compositions, the smooth camera movements, the unimpeachable performances. The madness in his method is what gives his work its quivering, almost alarming life.

(New York Times)


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