Under the Spotlight is a feature series that focuses on the rising stars of tomorrow, and those which have achieved success beyond the limits of their respected field. The series will be run by Urban Times editor Christian Julal.
Did you know that Noel Coward (playwright extraordinaire) doubled as a spy during WWII? In fact, he was so good that it earned him a place on the Nazi blacklist. How about that John Travolta holds licenses to fly 11 different air crafts? Or that when Daniel Day Lewis is not busy earning Oscar nominations he cobbles? By the nature of their work actors must be multi-talented; if their character sings, they must sing; if their character rides horses, they must ride horses; if their character solves Rubik cubes incredibly fast, they must solve Rubik cubes incredibly fast. Yet, in spite of this, only a select few actors have been able to successfully become directors. Among the actors who survived and thrived in the director’s chair are: Woody Allen, George Clooney, Charlie Chaplin, Ben Afflect, and… Josh Radnor?
Josh Radnor, best known for his role as Ted in How I Met Your Mother, evolved from actor to director with remarkable finesse which ensued well deserved success. Most recently he wrote, starred in, and directed his second film Liberal Arts. The only film to receive a standing ovation during Sundance 2012, Liberal Arts presents a brief moment on the life of 30-something Jesse (Josh Radnor) and the aftermath of visiting his alma matter which both opens a door and closes a window. Despite his age, this film is very much a coming of age tale, the gaining of wisdom of both Jesse and his younger paramour Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen). However, in spite of the success of this film–just like not every cook is a chef–not every director is an auteur.
An auteur is to film making what a guitarist (not a guitar player) is to guitar playing: the very best in their art. The idea of the auteur gained prominence during the ’60s as a way to group and analyze films. Spearheaded by the likes of Andrew Sarris, Auteur theory’s main tenant is this: the director is the author of a film. It follows from this idea that an auteur’s film will carry his signature in theme and style. Remember how the films of Tim Burton all have a particular and recognizable “burtonesque” aesthetic? Or how Hitchcocks’s films grapple with a set of reoccurring themes and style? This continuity, innovation and expectation in the theme and style in the body of work of each director makes both of them an Auteur. Kubrick, Hawks, Lubitsch, Cukor, Allen, Truffaut, Kurosawa are a few of the names from the handful of directors that merit the title. And every auteur holds the standard incredibly high; through their ingenuity, creativity, and dedication they molded cinema into what we know today, and paved the way for new directors like Josh Radnor.
So is Radnor an Auteur? Well, no – at least, not yet. For one, to be considered an auteur a director must have more than two films to his name. Yet, Radnor’s two films carry the future promise of an auteur – and a great one at that. Both of his films Happythankyoumoreplease and Liberal Arts carry the consistency required for the title both in theme and style. The themes of the pursuit of happiness, the never ending, ever surprising journey through life, the importance of knowledge, the acceptance of that some things are beyond our control, hold the spotlight of both these films. As to his films style Radnor’s tendency to develop different but intertwined narrative in his films could be one of the elements that won’t change; perhaps he will always star in his films as well – only time will tell. The words themselves play wickedly well in Radnor’s films. In an interview for Digital Spy Olsen praises Radnor’s words claiming “he has a rhythm and a style that he writes in that’s really fun to say,” something which definitely carries across the screen.
However, Radnor’s films have yet to explore their own medium. His films have been playful but safe. Something to be expected from an artist’s beginning, especially such a busy one like Radnor. With time, confidence, and practice, hopefully, we’ll see him make great films.