Of late, I've been ratcheting up my procurement of parodies; however, I do not want this blog to be saturated with too many spoofs and satires. Therefore, I will subdue this trend by delivering a retroactive "Person of the Week" segment—this was intended to be published for the first week of March. Admittedly, I forgot about it. It was lost in the growing spaces of my blogger drafts. Please forgive me for the tardiness of this post.
As we've all had ample time to digest the Awards season, one thing has become, as Col. Jessep would remark to Lt. Kaffee in A Few Good Men, "crystal" clear. Many knowledgeable moviegoers—I'm referring exclusively to those who follow film closely—consider the achievements of The King's Speech to be grossly undeserving. Despite my agreement with some of the dissension, I am not wholeheartedly in agreement. I say this precisely because any blanket acceptance of the scathing sentiment towards The King's Speech is emblematic of a little short-sightedness. Even though Inception should have won Best Picture, and Aronofsky or Fincher should have won Best Director, I absolutely, unequivocally cannot accept the unrelenting budget of disdain painting Tom Hooper, as some kind of talentless hack.
Quite the contrary, Hooper is a brilliant filmmaker. Perhaps, this level of defiance unleashed upon Tom is a reflection of his minimal exposure to mainstream moviegoers or a result of his lofty film, which took home the lions share of Oscar gold despite sharp disagreement over it's excellence. I tend to think that Hooper's negative approval rating is a cumulative result of both of these factors—most of his work has gone unnoticed by the average moviegoer, and The King's Speech was a polarizing film, which in my opinion, did not deserve a King's allotment of awards.
Therefore, the genesis of this post is motivated out of my willingness to dispel some of these cruel castigations directed at Tom Hooper. I may not utterly dig The King's Speech, but the man behind the enormous success, I do dig.
Prior to his feature film breakthrough, Hooper was a prolific fixture in the television realm. His filmmaking pedigree was fashioned at an early age, fostered from numerous short film projects. He would not swim into substantive directorial waters until he graduated from college—oh by the way, this guy is immensely smart, after all, he graduated from Oxford. If you're still not impressed, he also had the incredible honor of directing a young Kate Beckinsale in a student production.
Hooper's career got off to an unglamorous start, breaking into commercials. Admittedly, he was attempting to mimic the path of successful forerunners such as Ridley Scott and Tony Scott. His early influences included some well-known American TV series' such as ER and NYPD Blue.
Soon afterwards, Hooper would embark on a promising partnership with HBO, which resulted in a string of accolades, beginning with the critically acclaimed historical drama, Elizabeth I. This two-part serial exuded an 'Aronofsky-esque talent' for Hooper's narrative focused on obsession. Elizabeth I was followed by his critical darling, Longford, and the mega miniseries, John Adams. His work in feature films continued with The Damned United, but it wasn't until royalty came calling...that Hooper would finally gain widespread appeal.
Hooper refined his directorial craft through prominent work with major BBC costume dramas including Love in a Cold Climate and Daniel Deronda. A Hooper attribute that I feel most people fail to acknowledge is his intrepid and brisk forcefulness. While he was an inexperienced and unpolished commodity, Hooper won the rights to direct two episodes of Granada Television's comedy-drama television series, Cold Feet, which marked his move to bigger-budget productions. Despite an overtly guarded concern from Granada that Hooper may be unsuitable for the series given his background in drama, Tom's brilliant direction of the series would categorically dismiss any lingering concerns. In 2002, he would go on to direct Daniel Deronda, which would illustrate a prescient trait—he brought spunk and sagacity to television's most conservative form.
Hooper's directorial acumen, borne from a smart and daring mentality, would once again materialize. Famous Actress, Helen Mirren, actively pursued Tom to work on a British TV series she once made popular. The revival of Prime Suspect, entitled The Last Witness earned Hooper nominations for British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Serial, and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic special. His direction was praised for it's poignant approach, establishing a narrative that was both grim and hyper-realistic.
Tom would gain an important lesson from his first feature film, Red Dust. The lack of audience appeal indicated to him that the theatrical audiences it was designed to target "do not run to see films that are openly issue bled." Much like the scenario involving Helen Mirren, another prominent actor would come calling for Hooper's services; Tom Hanks. The multiple Academy Award winning Actor recruited Hooper to direct Hooper was nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award for outstanding directorial achievement. The series would highlight some of his best traits including his visually robust design (evidenced through beautiful panoramic shots) as well as his keen sense of camaraderie with his actors.
Hooper is perhaps best known for getting the most out of his actors. In reference to John Adams, Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe writes, "he [Hooper] lets his actors shine." His marvelous ability to coax the best performances out of his cast is precisely what makes Hooper such a distinctive and formidable entity in the filmmaking world. The fact that both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush earned incredible praise from their work on The King's Speech is partly owed to Hooper's directorial approach. He consults with his actors a great deal, and this incessant, but methodical give-and-take is what makes Tom an advantageous leader for his cast—as opposed to some kind of autocratic task master.
The King's Speech was a personal film for Hooper, as the core of the film reflects an eerily familiar culture clash; his Anglo-Australian parentage. And this post is personal because I once naively disregarded Hooper's credentials. Most of my disdain had to do with the disappointment of the Academy Awards major winners. But complemented by an unbiased look at his pedigree, I've come to admire the man.
Hooper is currently working on a film adaptation of Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, but it will not begin work until 2012. This movie could be vastly compelling, but I'd love see him take on a gangster film or an epic adventure. He's still young, but if he ever wants to proliferate a growing fan base and larger audiences, he must look towards more "fan friendly projects."
The enormous praise put forth for Christopher Nolan—who most online film personalities admire because of his dual attentiveness to originality and innovation—belies a certain share of admiration for Tom Hooper, whose infant directorial pedigree is defined more by grandiose storytelling, and less by vicissitudes of technical bravado.
The King's Speech represents an all-too-common narrative trope that closely aligns with America's exuberance with royal drama; how many Americans were fascinated by Princess Diana? But this mode of thinking is really a reflection of the past mindset. Newer generations of moviegoers are growing tired of these tried-and-true royal formats—there seems to be an intricate appreciation for more relevant storytelling that mirrors our times...or at the very least, you can always follow the comic book way. This narrative "relevance" is partly why Inception is revered so universally, and is frankly, so magnificent while The King's Speech never fared too well at the box office. It's technical and narrative brilliance is commensurate with it's originality.
Of course, there are myriad other components to the box office puzzle that I will not even remotely dissect in this piece—mostly, the "men under 25" demographic group, which dictates every major studio's marketing ploys—but the point I wanted to impress upon you is that it is unfair to confuse your dissatisfaction with The King's Speech with your appreciation for Tom Hooper's directorial might. Heck, I didn't enjoy The King's Speech to the tune of Four Oscar's, but I did discern the excellence of Hooper's direction, specifically, in relation to the phenomenal acting he helped influence.
Hooper is a talented storyteller. But if he ever wants to amass the kind of large-scale, mainstream popularity from the newer generation of moviegoers that Nolan deservedly enjoys, he must undertake a story that the "men under 25" demographic will actually go see: a comic book adaptation, a successful book franchise, or an action-packed, adrenaline-fueled flick.
Tom's not even considered one of my favorite current directors, but there is no question, he is one of the most talented. Given his growing experience, his proven knack for being an actor's-director, and both his smart visual and narrative tact, there's a good chance I could become one of his adoring fans. If Hooper ever tackles a favorite subject of mine (say, the gangster genre) or undertakes a film project that deeply appeals to me (say, The Wolverine considering Aronofsky's recent departure), then I'd be in a better position to evaluate his credentials. Until that day, Hooper is just another Tom that just barely fails to live up to the great esteem of his first name—Sawyer, Petty, Brady, Hanks or Cruise can all boast a greater measure of pride—I'd wager my "March Madness" winnings that Hooper will join the aforementioned Greatest Tom's List in due time.
*The above video provides a rather lengthy but informative interview with the man of the week, Tom Hooper
**Any quotes above come from "Tom Hooper's Wikipedia Page."