How important is it for a filmmaker to be versed in cinema history and filmography? There clearly exists a social pressure to be all-knowing when it comes to movie trivia, particularly with the more obscure titles, roles, and years of production. Can a filmmaker truly claim the title credibly without having logged several hundreds of hours of film-watching per year? Would not such an individual be uninformed and lacking a crucial frame of reference needed to craft his or her own films? It’s a little bit like asking whether an author can be successful at his craft without being a voracious reader in their own right.
Clearly, a person who has become a filmmaker was attracted to the profession because of their own personal affair with the medium, and their paradigm is very likely informed by the countless films they have watched and enjoyed over their formative years. But is film-fanaticism necessary?
For filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, film history is clearly a huge part of their source material. They are hommage-ists, particularly Tarantino. Whatever anachronisms and curiosities he brings to his screenplays, the major thread in all his films can be felt very plainly; Quentin loves films, he loves them a lot.
On the other hand there are many other filmmakers and artists who are sufficiently acquainted with their forbearers to have gained a context for their own work, but who do not indulge so much in film spectatorship. They are busy thinking about film, crafting it, trying to isolate their voice, their technique, their vision. These filmmakers will often not be up-to-date on the latest films, or possess encyclopedic knowledge of film history, but somehow they manage to ply their craft all the same.
Knowledge and respect of the past is important, and even essential to form a solid basis for any argument, but there is also the very real danger of becoming saturated with the work of others and to impede one’s own natural creativity. There is a danger of “hopping on the bandwagon” and engaging topics in your film with a style and approach that fits just perfectly what others before you have done, and that has been in a way robbed of your true essence by its desire to appear “legitimate”.
It’s quite possible that like in many other facets of life, the ideal state lies somewhere in the middle; a filmmaker might find it most productive to be educated in film and to stick his/her head out every once in a while to see what their peers are doing, but to also confidently ignore the noise and to go with their gut instinct over what Orson Welles would have done.
Balance is really the key.