Visiting a retired Frank Capra at his Sierra Nevada hideaway, Clint Eastwood was baffled.
“I always thought: ‘He could be making a film right now. He’s as lucid as could be. Here’s the great Frank Capra not doing it,’” Eastwood said of the famed director, who died in 1991 at 94, three decades after his last film. “I always thought, ‘I wonder why that is?’”
Eastwood, who at 84 just released the musical “Jersey Boys” and wrapped shooting on the Navy SEAL drama “American Sniper,” isn’t the only filmmaker blowing past conventional retirement age.
On Friday, Woody Allen, 78, released his latest film, the French Riviera romantic comedy “Magic in the Moonlight.” He’s also already working on to the next one, shooting this summer in Rhode Island.
In June came “Venus in Fur,” from Roman Polanski, 80.
In May, Jean-Luc Godard, 83, the perpetual enfant terrible, premiered his 3-D “Goodbye to Language” at the Cannes Film Festival.
Both European iconoclasts remain as mischievous in old age as Allen and Eastwood have been steadfast. Polanski’s film is a gloriously comic, self-referential gender play. Godard’s film – in which his dog played a starring role – was more experimental than most 25-year-old’s dare. It was greeted in Cannes by a viewer’s cry: “Godard forever!”
At a time when literary giants such as Philip Roth, 81, and Alice Munro, 83, have quit their craft, many of cinema’s auteurs stubbornly have persisted, churning out frequently acclaimed, often vibrant films in a youth-driven industry.
“In Hollywood there is that kind of hackneyed, commercial thinking where they think, ‘Oh, this guy is over the hill, this guy can’t direct that kind of picture,’” Allen said. “But the truth of the matter is that in my lifetime, there have been many directors like John Ford, John Huston, Billy Wilder who were wonderful as they got older and they made sometimes better pictures than they made when they were younger.”
Certainly, film history is littered with directors who worked well past retirement age. Akira Kurosawa, Sidney Lumet and Robert Altman all worked into their 80s, producing some fine films: Altman’s “Gosford Park,” Kurosawa’s “Dreams,” Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” Huston, at 81, died months after the release of “The Dead,” his Oscar-nominated adaptation of the James Joyce story. The French film director Alain Resnais was active up to his death in March at 91.