“I don’t believe in censorship in any form.”
Our In Focus series examines some of cinema’s most beloved directors, highlighting some of the ingredients that make up their signature style, as well as showcase our top-picks of their best films. This instalment celebrates Kathryn Bigelow, known for her incredible visuals and heart-pounding action sequences, Bigelow is the first female to win the Academy Award for Best Director and is one of today’s most fascinating directors.
Here are our highlights on what makes Kathryn Bigelow’s films unique and our top three picks showcase her unique voice:
Bigelow’s passion for adrenaline-inducing action is found throughout her body of work. With her earlier work bring produced during the 80s, which was synonymous with big action films, but it is her continuing commitment to action fuelled spectacle that has seen her achieve a higher level of sophistication and success. Her films rarely waste any time engaging the audience for the action they are about to witness, and her work has seen some incredible opening sequences; the land-mine diffusion gone awry that introduces The Hurt Locker, the failed Code Red exercise between a submarine and commander in K-19: The Widowmaker, the police raid that quickly escalates into a race fuelled riot in Detroit, and the 80s reminiscent fast-paced cross-cutting between picturesque surfing and tactical combat training in the opening sequence in Point Break. In the hands of a lesser director, this style could be easily distastefully fabricated, but Bigelow’s precision and visual literacy elevate her.
Adaptability to Genre:
Bigelow can be a difficult filmmaker to find consistency in, her career has produced a dynamic array of work and seen her take command of many different genres. She has directed police thrillers with Blue Steel and Point Break, science fiction in Strange Days, a hybrid vampire horror-western in Near Dark, a biker movie with The Loveless, a literary mystery with The Weight Of Water, war-themed films with K-19: The Widowmaker, The Hurt Locker and recently delving into history-biopic focused films with Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit. This versatility that makes it difficult to thread through a consistent exploration of cinematic genre or subject matter, but it is exactly this versatility that makes Bigelow unique. Rather than bending a genre or theme to her will, she raises her directorial ability to create what is necessary to the story. Bigelow’s ability to adapt showcases her mastery of the form and continuing evolution as she tackles new and diverse subject matter.
Fearless Approach to Subject Matter:
Commonly recognized for her multiple Academy Award-winning film The Hurt Locker, Bigelow since 2008 has collaborated with Mark Baol – a journalist turned screenwriter –which has seen her body of work evolve, creating gritty realities that fearlessly explore taboo subjects. Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit have both been heralded for their use of visceral imagery and fearless approach to the subject matter, however, finding controversy along the way. Zero Dark Thirty received controversy surrounding depictions of torture, “Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt,” Bigelow stated. “That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore”. This solidarity also surrounded her in her most recent film Detroit as the question of her race came under scrutiny when telling the story of racism fuelled riots the film depicts “Certainly, my first reaction when I heard this story was: ‘Am I the right person to make this film?’ Because I am absolutely not. But it’s been 50 years in the shadows, and what is more important than whether I am the right or wrong person to tell the story is that it is told. And I’m trying, with what means I have, to be a part of encouraging that conversation.” Bigelow is fearless when approaching her subject matter, and it results in a visceral experience that conveys the power of cinema. Other directors may choose to soften the story points out of fear of retaliation or disinterest, but Bigelow’s conviction is admirable and the mark of a true artist.
Top 3 films:
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Set during the Iraq War, a Sergeant recently assigned to an army bomb squad is put at odds against his comrades due to his maverick style of working. Winner of six Academy Awards (including Best Director), The Hurt Locker is an intensely shot, impeccably performed action war epic and is herald as one of the best recent dramatizations of the Iraq War. This film encapsulates everything that makes Bigelow unique and sees her at the height of her skills, and also saw her become the first (and sadly only) woman to win an Academy Award for directing.
Zero Dark Thirty (2013)
A chronicle of the decade-long manhunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, culminating in his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L.s. Team 6. Suspenseful, gritty and exquisitely crafted, Zero Dark Thirty lays an intelligent and character-driven thriller with impeccable detail and saw the second collaboration with Mark Baol, solidifying their successful relationship of creativity.
Point Break (1991)
Point Break follows an F.B.I. Agent who goes undercover to catch a gang of surfers who double as bank robbers to finance their endless summer. Wildly entertaining, even with its over-the-top premise, Bigelow’s fourth feature shows her skills for spectacle and audience engagement in a classic cult film that landed her on the map as a director to note.
Bigelow’s career has been one of diversity and evolution, with her earlier work being set in the heightened fever of action, a more distilled, later-career Bigelow has seen her find a perfect blending of sensibilities with Mark Boal to produce some of the most provocative and socially relevant cinema of the last decade. She has managed to achieve all of this whilst scaling the gender impaired mountain of being a Hollywood director, forging a successful career now spanning three decades. Bigelow is a unique and powerful voice in the noise of Hollywood, and we look forward to what she has next.