DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: THE SOPHOMORE SLUMP

Friday, 13 April 2007

THE SOPHOMORE SLUMP

The Sophomore Slump is more associated with a sports cliché but in the history of cinema there have been a few. More often than not a director’s first film, however successful, is compromised by budget, often scraped together from personal savings, rich uncles, minor arts grants, or maxed out credit cards. These films are born from years of sweat and toil and sacrifice and cashed in favours. George Lucas’ first film “THX 1138,” was famously under-imagined due to a slim budget and short shooting schedule. But arguably its greatness came out of its sparseness. With “American Graffiti,” Lucas’ next film, he achieved mega success, many Oscar nominations and a chance to do a certain trilogy we need not speak of. Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film “Hard Eight,” while respected for its small scale story of an older man seeking redemption for past sins, in Anderson’s eyes was a compromised film and butcher-job by the studio. Of course, his next film “Boogie Nights” secured Anderson near god-like status as an indie auteur. In most cases “second films” allowed give the filmmakers freedom to expand their creativity and truly express themselves, but there have been a few filmmakers whose sophomore films just couldn’t live up to the hype. Below are 10 of the most notable of sophomore slumps:

NOTE: You’ll see this list is heavily skewed to the 80’s and 90’s and to American films. Before this time the studio system allowed directors to slowly develop their craft either through television, or low-budget Roger Cormon-type films. It wasn’t until the 80’s and 90’s when self-financed independently produced films were feasible for young filmmakers. And so, the phenomenon of the sophomore slump is generally a new-era occurrence.

Andrew Niccol (GattacaSimone)

In 1997 Niccol directed “Gattaca” and though not a commercial success was highly acclaimed and as the writer of “The Truman Show” the next year Niccol established himself as a sensitive and thought-provoking filmmaker. His next film, “Simone”, about a producer who creates a virtual celebrity in his computer to say it plainly, was one a frustrating experience and one of the worst films I’d ever seen. To give him the benefit of the doubt, the film received as many positive reactions as negative ones, but I believe those same critics would categorize it as a step down from his previous work. Since Simone, he’s directed the underrated “Lord of War” which redeems him slightly, and according to the IMDB he’s developing a biopic on Salvador Dali. Only time will tell.

Kevin Costner (Dances With WolvesThe Postman)

Oh Kevin, what a downfall. Ok, so you beat out “Goodfellas” for the Oscars in 1990, we may not have held that against you if you didn’t follow it up with the grand debacle of “The Postman”. Essentially a remake of “Dances With Wolves” set in the future, the grandness of its critical failure was only matched by the grandness of its commercial failure. An estimated budget of $80m, brought back only $17m in the box office. Kevin’s third film, “Open Range” brought Costner back down to earth, and proved that he could make a good film. We’re still waiting for film # 4.


Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez (Blair Witch ProjectThe Strand/Altered)

After directing the most profitable film of all time ($140m domestic box office compared to a $35,000 budget) Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez appeared to fall off the cinematic map. I suspect they were respectfully stuck in development hell, or were receiving lame horror/Blair Witch ripoff scripts. Ironically, according to the IMDB, each of them directed straight to video films in 2006 - Myrick's "The Strand" and Sanchez's "Altered". I don't know anyone who has seen them. What a shame. Don’t give up guys.

Karyn Kusama (GirlfightAeon Flux)

One of the biggest disappointments has to be Karyn Kusama’s lengthy hiatus after the 2000 hit “Girlfight”. The film won the highly coveted Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and a dozen more prestigious international awards. But it took 5 years to produce her second film, and unfortunately happened to be the cartwheeling Charlize Theron vehicle and unnecessary adaptation of Peter Chung’s hyper-cool animated series, “Aeon Flux”. Needless to say, it bombed and didn’t come close to recouping its budget ($25m domestic box office gross vs. a $65m budget). But more disappointing is her choice in subject matter after her promising start with “Girlfight” – a girlpower Matrix ripoff. Come on Karyn, enough games, show us your teeth again.

Vincent Gallo (Buffalo 66The Brown Bunny)

1998’s “Buffalo 66” was like the birth of a fresh new voice in American indie filmmaking. It was raw and personal and reminded us of Scorsese’s early films. And so, when “The Brown Bunny” was listed in competition at Cannes in 2003, at least in my house, there was some excitement as to what his follow up would be. Of course, the film’s reception at Cannes that year is now the stuff of legend. The walkouts, the boos, the jeers from the French audience, and the tête-à-tête fallout with Roger Ebert. I’ve only seen the ‘improved’ shorter version of Gallo’s sparse road movie, but even then, his sophomore film is a disappointment and a step down from the promise of "Buffalo ’66". Despite this I hope he can find more money for his movies, and I hope he doesn’t need fellatio to get it.

Billy Bob Thornton (Sling BladeAll the Pretty Horses)

Billy Bob entered the Hollywood scene with a triple threat film, writing, acting and directing “Sling Blade” for which he won the Oscar for screenwriting. But his second film “All the Pretty Horses” crashed and burned in an all-round Miramax fiasco. Despite being an adaptation of an acclaimed Cormac McCarthy novel, the production was one trouble after the next - a lengthy and overbudget shoot, a reported four-hour director’s cut severely chopped down to under two hours, and a full Daniel Lanois score discarded in favour of Marty Stuart, Larry Paxton and Kristin Wilkinson (who?). When asked if there would ever be a director’s cut of the film, Billy Bob says “doubtful”. He’s been quoted as saying, even if he had a chance to release a director's cut, he'd only do it if he could restore Lanois’ original music, which he cites as the most beautiful score he’s ever heard. A shame.

Lars Von Trier (The Element of CrimeEpidemic)

After wowing Cannes and the international film scene with his brooding cyber-punk future-noir “The Element of Crime” (1984), Lars Von Trier followed it up with a hastily put together post modern mess of a horror film “Epidemic”. Lars casts himself as well as his screenwriter in a film within a film within a film. Over time the film has gained a cult following, but of his entire body of work, arguably it’s his lesser film.

Kevin Smith (ClerksMallrats)

In 1994 Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” became the slacker generation’s most quotable film. A $27,000 credit card-funded film about two guys talkin’ dirty in a convenience store grossed over 10 times its budget. Perhaps the Tarantino comparisons were too much, because his next film “Mallrats” received scathing reviews and a dumped marketing campaign which equaled bad box office (it returned only a quarter of its budget back in the domestic theatres). Despite the experience of “Mallrats” Kevin Smith would bounce back two years later with his best film so far, “Chasing Amy”. Good on him.

Ed Burns (Brothers McMullanShe’s the One)

The success of “Brothers McMullan” was out of this world for Ed Burns, and the lottery ticket film all directors are looking for. Shot for $24,000 over weekends, the director acting, writing, directing and producing with a cast of unknowns, the film made it to Sundance, won, and got picked up by Fox Searchlight for distribution. A dream come true. What would Burns do next? “She’s the One” certainly wasn’t his “Magnificent Ambersons” or ‘Boogie Nights” or his “Pulp Fiction”. “She’s the One” played it too safe, another Irish-American story with more expensive, but not necessarily better actors. And even after 7 more films the only one we’ve even remembered the title for is “Brothers McMullan” – it still resonates.

Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies and VideotapeKafka)

For 2 years, Steven Soderbergh was the wunderkind. Under 30, and already a Palme D’Or winner, and the leader of the 90’s indie movement. His debut was highly accomplished and demonstrated superior command of the artform. It was clear “Sex, Lies” was highly personal - perhaps James Spader’s character mirrored Soderbergh’s own idiosyncrasies. But with his next film “Kafka” Soderbergh delivered an overindulgent experimental mess nowhere near as complex or intriguing as “Sex, Lies”. Needless to say, it bombed with both critics and the box office. Soderbergh’s next 2 films performed just as badly, but as we know, it took Soderbergh another 7 years before climbing back on top with a string of hits culminating in his 2000 Oscar year.

Please send in your comments other additions, specifically international filmmakers I may have looked over. Thanks.


40 comments :

Patrick said...

How about Jeunet and Caro's descent from Delicatessen to City of Lost Children?

For what it's worth, I like Mallrats better than Clerks (which is still not very much), and think Kafka was fascinating in how it set loose the author as character in landscapes of his own creation. Trying to think of other examples of that... Naked Lunch, sort of?

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Glazer - from Sexy Beast to Birth...

Alan Bacchus said...

I consider Birth an underappreciated great film. But you're right commercially it was a big failure.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that Birth was a stinker but it was very far from Sexy Beast...don't you think?

Alan Bacchus said...

Call me crazy, I have a soft spot for Birth, and actually prefer it to Sexy Beast

Andrew D. Wells said...

I thought you should be aware that your dates are little off on the Niccol films. Gattaca was released in 1997, The Truman Show in 1998. Although, those are US release dates.

How about Bryan Singer, The Usual Suspects - Apt Pupil

Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks Andrew. I've made the correction. Bryan Singer is a good one too. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Dare I say Sam Raimi's Crimewave...

Alan Bacchus said...

Crimewave - I've actually never seen it. Very rare.

Vuk said...

What about Richard Kelly? Even though opinions are split, Donnie Darko is an intriguing and compelling debut. He followed up by the very badly reviewed ‘Southland Tales’ (which I haven’t seen), but for me, the real sophomore slump was the disastrous Director’s cut of Donnie Darko, that showed that Kelly had no idea what his own film was about…

Alan Bacchus said...

Good call on Richard Kelly. Until its released i'll give him the benefit of the doubt. But its looking like you're right.

Ian said...

Daniel Myrick's THE STRAND is not a horror movie but a multi-character drama set in Venice Beach. It started life as an online show, but I see that a feature version of it screened last month at the Florida Film Festival.

If you're curious, the website's here:

http://www.strandvenice.com/

Ripley said...

I have seen Southland Tales - the full version as well as shown in Cannes - and it's truly terrible. But you're right, Vuk. The DD: Director's Cut was a true slump from the original, and Southland Tales feels like a continuation of that slide in many ways.

On a British note, my most recent shocking 'sophomore slump' was seeing Asif Kapadia, who made a wonderful 2001 debut with The Warrior, directed as his second film the awful Sarah Michelle Gellar horror, The Return. Now that was a true disappointment.

whiteelephant said...

The Wachowski Brothers - from the smart Bound to the dumb Matrix.

Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks Ian for the clarification. I've made the change re: the Strand. I'll check out the site as well.

Anonymous said...

Agred that Apt Pupil was a huge step down for Bryan Singer, but strictly speaking his first movie was Public Access, not The Usual Suspects.

BubbaCoop said...

I love Kafka! I've been waiting on a DVD release for YEARS!

BubbaCoop said...

Patrick,
I think In the Mouth of Madness falls under that category. I mean, the tagline is: Lived Any Good Books Lately?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I have seen "Altered" and found it quite entertaining. It's a shame these two haven't had the commercial success everyone expected of them after "Blair Witch."

abcdefz said...

I haven't seen Spike Lee's SCHOOL DAZE, but I've heard it was really bad. Unless you count WE CUT HEADS as his first film, this might be another example.

Tom Houseman said...

Here's an obvious one I'm surprised nobody's mentioned. What about Rob Marshall? Chicago was an absolute masterpiece, while Memoirs of a Geisha was crap. That's the worst sophomore slump I can think of.

rebelalliance said...

What about Equilibrium to Ultraviolet? Yeesh...

(Can't remember the guys name..)

Alan Bacchus said...

Hey Tom. Good call on Rob Marshall. Thanks.

The Script Doctor said...

Great topic. But personally I would give Kevin Smith a pass for Mallrats, which is a guilty pleasure of mine.

That said, I took your challenge way too seriously and came up with five sophomore slumps no one's mentioned:

*John Singleton (Boyz N' the Hood - Poetic Justice)

*Stanley Tucci (Big Night - The Imposters)

*Steve James (Hoop Dreams - Prefontaine)

*Doug Liman (Swingers - Go)

*George A. Romero. (Night of the Living Dead - There's Always Vanilla) I offer this last one begrudgingly, because I'm crazy about Romero and I haven't even seen his second film. But has anybody?! It's a puny 5.7 on IMDB, which is very low for this auteur.

Alan Bacchus said...

Script Doctor, you rock! Thanks for the additions. You reminded me of the Hughes Bros, following the passionate "Menace II Society" with disappointment of "Dead Presidents".

mineral said...

I strongly concur with the Equilibrium -> Ultraviolet suggestion.

And that would be for director Kurt Wimmer, but sorry to say, he directed a vehicle for The Boz in One Tough Bastard before he sat behind the chair in 2002 for Equilibirum.

Anonymous said...

jared hess-napoleon dynamite to nacho libre?

Gkessler said...

I am not sure where all the hate for Postman comes from. It is a hell of a Science Fiction movie and the even the author of the book thought it was a damn good adaptation (with the obligitory sappy Kevin Costener scenes thrown in). It is light years better than Dances with Wolves, except for the scene where the fort commander wets himself, that is classic.

Peter said...

You could do another list of dissapointing follow-ups (people that avoided the sophmore slump, but who nonetheless followed up fantastic movies with sub-par fare). For example, David Fincher going from Fight Club to Panic Room, Trantino's Pulp Fiction to Jackie Brown, Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien to Harry Potter, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights to Magnolia

Anonymous said...

How about Kasi Lemmons with Eve's Bayou then Cavemans Valentine
( although i understand she has a new film with Don Cheadle that is getting buzz)

Joseph said...

What about M. Night Shyamalan?

6th Sense ---> Unbreakable

GetOnMyMap Media said...

Richard Kelly's SOUTHLAND TALES, from the cut I've seen, is an incomprehensible mess. I've railed on it since I first saw it last fall and I can't imagine it gets even close to just "crappy" whenever it is released. Could be permanently shelved by now for all I know.

Lexx-2 said...

Alan Johnson: from To Be or Not To Be (1983) to the barely released turkey Solarbabies (1986). Hasn't directed since.

Anonymous said...

Magnolia may not be as good as Boogie Nights but it is still an excellent film. I would hardly call it a slump.

Anonymous said...

For Your Consideration:

Sam Mendes: American Beauty --> Road To Perdition

Ben Stiller: Reality Bites --> The Cable Guy

eb said...

>Trantino's Pulp Fiction to Jackie >Brown, Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien to >Harry Potter, and Paul Thomas >Anderson's Boogie Nights to Magnolia

Except that "Jackie Brown", "Prisoner of Azkaban", and "Magnolia" were all good films (especially "Magnolia")

Ericmann said...

If nobody has mentioned this yet Usual Suspects was Bryan Singer's second (or Sophomore) film. Also I got a Japenese DVD of Sam Raimi's Crimewave (the case its called Crimewave, in the movie itself it's called The XYZ Murders) I've only ever watched it once and it truely wasn't all that good.

Anonymous said...

First off Pulp Fiction was not Tarantino's debut film.

Second, I'm surprised that Sam Mendez ' American Beauty to Road to Perdition wasn't on the list. Sure, Road To Perdition was a good film and made decent money at the B.O., it was nowhere near as influential or as good as American beauty though.

Anonymous said...

I would think Michael Cimino with Heaven's Gate following The Deer Hunter is the prime example

name said...

zAsoJy Thanks to author.