It's almost shocking to think it today, but at the beginning of June 1975, The Godfather sat on a perch as the highest grossing film of all time. The studio system had collapsed and the maverick directors of New American Cinema had shown up, all guns blazing, to splurge their millions and drop acid on the rubble.
The executives in Hollywood hadn't a clue how to handle the wild, existential youngsters that counter-culture was throwing at them but, to their great relief, two Hollywood saviours were on the way.
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were by far the most clean cut of the film school "Movie Brats" so when they showed up and took to setting registers back ringing, for the studios at least, there was simply no looking back. And when Spielberg's Jaws opened in 1975, the Summer Blockbuster, as we now well know it, was born.
The film ravished every financial record in sight and raced to the top of that high earner list at 190 million knots. The title had changed hands just 6 times in the 6 decades priot but astonishingly Jaws' reign would be the shortest of the lot.
Just two years later, George Lucas sent Jaws dropping (pun 100% intended) when Star Wars: Episode IV almost doubled that film's takings, bringing us finally to the point of all this rampant blabbering (apologies, it really did take some time). Spielberg congratulated his old pal in a pleasantly creative way, by taking a full page ad out in trade bible Variety to let the people of Hollywood know just how much he cared.
A touching, clever gesture between the two screen icons. Lucas must have hoped, however unlikely, to one day return the favour and in the end (again, quite astonishingly) he didn't have to wait too long. When Spielberg released E.T. seven years later the title once again changed hands and Lucas responded in a much similar fashion.
Spielberg had only himself to beat the next time the top table shifted around when Jurassic Park went top in 1993. The director enjoyed the penthouse view for a good 15 years before Kate & Leo came along to finally sink his ship (again, 100%).
There's scarcely even a decade between James Cameron and these two old masters and yet the Canadian is still considered to be of a newer generation. So when Titanic cruised in, crushing everything in its path, it's endearing to see that Lucas decided to pass the tradition on.
Cameron has sat atop that pile for close to 16 years at this stage with only his $2.8 billion Avatar having shook things up. Who knows, perhaps Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams should keep an eye on the trades in 2015, but in the mean time it got us all thinking about some other times when directors enjoyed a gushing exchange.
Akira Kurasawa and Andrei Tarkovsky immediately come to mind. Both were great fans of the other's work, with the Russian at one point even inviting Kurasawa over for a private screening of Solaris before the film's release. Kurasawa told him "it’s very good. It’s a frightening movie" before the two pals hit up a local union bar for a few drinks...
Tarkovsky, who does not usually drink, got completely drunk and cut off the speakers at the restaurant, then began singing the theme of Seven Samurai at the top of his voice. I joined in, eager to keep up.
At that moment I was very happy to be on Earth.
Kursawa seemed to take great pride in this sort of artistic correspondence. He sent this rather eloquent letter to Ingmar Bergman for the great director's 70th birthday:
Kurasawa, it seems, wasn't the only one with some love for that particular Swede. In 1960, during his time making Spartacus for Universal, a 31 year old Stanley Kubrick sent a far more gushing piece of mail to Bergman, unashamedly pouring his heart out to the great man:
And what of the times when it's not such good news? Alien designer H.R. Giger, who sadly passed away just last month, got understandably pissed when he realised James Cameron would not be including- or even crediting him- for Aliens, the 1986 sequel. A letter received by Cameron from the Swiss artist concluded as follows:
As for those responsible for this conspiracy: All I can wish them is an Alien breeding inside their chests, which might just remind them that the "Alien Father" is H.R.Giger.
Cameron responded with this full blooded, complimentary letter in which he expresses not only his love for Giger's work but also confesses to personally owning, and cherishing, a certain piece of the artist's product:
Great stuff. There's something oh so quaint about it all, these millionaire master directors heaping well written praise on each other, even the most renowned hot heads of the lot.
We'll leave you with South Park's Matt Stone and his "favorite memo ever"- a message to the MPAA regarding cuts to South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut- but let us know if you can think of any other great director correspondences or, even better, if you've ever sent a letter out yourself. Sound off in the comments section below.