The Other David Cairns

There’s another David Cairns. He makes documentaries. This is potentially confusing, even to me, especially since I’m currently preparing a documentary. (Remind me to tell you about that.) Since I sometimes write as just D. Cairns, I’m tempted to use that as my screen credit in future, although it seems unfair because I WAS HERE FIRST, DAMNIT.

But it got me thinking about names. What are the best film director names? Obviously Aldo Lado is very pleasing because the first name is an anagram of the second name, and vice versa. You can’t say that for Andrei Konchalovsky.

Names like Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini and especially Pier Palo Pasolini have both the mellifluous sound of the Italian language, and inbuilt alliteration. They sound like SUPERHEROES. I can readily picture Roberto punching his enemies through walls, Federico swinging from his webs above a Cinecitta Manhattan, and Pasolini picking up rough trade in his Salomobile.

Michelangelo Antonioni, on the other hand, is a ridiculous name. It doesn’t know when to stop.

Kinji Fukasaku is a terrific little name. So dynamic — it’s like every swear word in the universe crammed into six syllables. Robert Bolt reported that his first word after his stroke was “Fuck,” because it seemed to fit the circumstances and it’s so satisfying to say.* Had he gone that extra mile and uttered the name of BATTLE ROYALE’s future director, his recovery might have been accelerated greatly.

Britain seems ill-served in this capacity. No doubt familiarity breeds contempt, and we’re hardly likely to find the exotic at play, but I do find the arrays of Mikes, Kens and Tonys a little disappointing — the names fall far short of most of the actual work. You have to dig to come up with more ambitious names like Anthony Pelissier, Horace Ove and Piers Haggard. The double acts got it right — with Powell & Pressburger and Launder & Gilliat you can sense filmmakers capitalising on the greater interest of their surnames by jamming them together and dropping all the boring Michael and Sidney stuff.

America, the great melting pot, should offer a great variety of crazy mash-up names, and any set of end credits can usually be relied upon to throw up a few extraordinary conglomerations — from THE MATRIX I pluck the following — Jenaya Pender, Robert Simper, Mali Finn, Hugh Bateup, Sonja Smuk, Grayden le Breton, Toby Pease, Pieter Ploody. And yet, I submit, the crazy names department is one area in which American cineastes have consistently underperformed. Can you suggest any good exceptions?

*Also, a stroke often has a disinhibiting effect, making swearing more likely.


28 Responses to “The Other David Cairns”

  1. my fave filmmaker name from when I was making films regulary was Giovanni MacDonald

  2. There is the one you gave a while back, Harry Wagstaff Gribble, which sounds like a director’s name out of a broad comedy. If he’d directed a script by William Slavens McNutt, Paramount would have had to add a “honest folks, that’s really their names” title card.

  3. I’ve always thought Nick Ray was just right.

  4. A guy named Mann made brutal noir and westerns. But when Anthony felt Shakespearean he made them call him “Tony”.

  5. There’s another one of me out there, same first/last name and close to the same age. Lives within 100 miles of me, too. If we looked alike I could go introduce myself, “Hi, I’m your doppelgänger, what sort of mistaken-identity dystopian hell would you like for yourself?”.

  6. Anthony Mann sounds good, but he’s surrounded by all the other Menn, Michael, Daniel, Delbert… he’d stand out more if he’d kept the “Bunds” in front of it.

    Nick Ray has a lovely sound to it, makes me wish he’d used it for his credit, although as a general rule, abbreviated first names in credits are to be avoided. My TV viewing in the 70s made me distrust directors called Bud, Burt and Buddy (honorary exception for Boetticher). Yet at the same time, Chuck Jones edges out Charles M Jones.

  7. Irving Rapper, yo.

  8. As I commented on Twitter when watching his demented Anguish, Bigas Lunas has the perfect name for what he is. I always loved the name Doris Wishman too, with its collision of plain-Jane and hunger for hunks summing up her work admirably. Fred Schepisi has a name that’s fun to say (and there aren’t enough directors called Fred). I wish Mimi Leder would make more movies just because of her assonant, half-coochie-coo half-guru nomenclature.

  9. Yeah, Bigas and Mimi are filmmakers I admire more for their name than for their bodies of work. OK filmmakers with exceptional names.
    Tinto Brass is another good one!

  10. judydean Says:

    Among the Brits, I think Barney Platts-Mills deserves a mention.

    A propos of nothing much, I used to frequent a cafe years ago owned by a Scots-Italian whose name was Jock Galileo.

  11. I’ll bet the other David Cairns doesn’t write limericks.

  12. Not so far as I know…

    Jock Galileo is awesome. Much better than Barney Platt-Mills, good though that is.

    Of the Americans, you know who’s good? King Baggot is good.

  13. Randy Cook Says:

    Edgar Allen Woolf. Big chip on THAT shoulder, one suspects.

  14. Orson Welles is still the best. Francois Truffaut(another lovely name) noted that Orson sounded a lot like ourson, the French word for Bear.

    Then for sheer intimidation, Rainer Werner Fassbinder weighs as heavily on the tongue and the ear as his prolific output does on the viewer’s consciousness. Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau has that ethereal quality that signifies his films.

    But the best is simply, Jean-Luc Godard.

  15. Oh, Orson does indeed derive from the Latin Ursus, meaning bear.

    And Welles was very fond of the name Fassbinder, dropping it into both Lady from Shanghai and The Other Side of the Wind.

    Of Murnau’s contemporary fellow-countrymen, Joe May has a nice ring to his handle.

  16. David, you might say that Anthony was a Mann among Manns. I can’t top King Baggot. Who can? But Ub Iwerks comes the closest. And it may not be a crazy name, but I like the sound of Lloyd Bacon, though that may be simply because I like the sizzle and pop of actual bacon. Some other names that have a nice ring to them are Kenneth Anger, Buster Keaton, Carroll Ballard, Hampton Fancher, Amos Poe, Tay Garnett, Hy Averback, Ford Beebe and Oscar Micheaux. Melvin Van Peebles always makes me smile. Then there’s the allitteratives Hugo Haas, Lew Landers and Allan Arkush. As well as the animated Tex Avery. And, I almost hate to add, M. Night Shyamalan.

  17. For alliteration and word-sound, Howard Hawks is very nice.

  18. David Boxwell Says:

    I like the sound of these five: Muriel Box. Fred Niblo. Clarence Badger. Sammo Hung. Buzz Kulik.

  19. It’s striking and weird that Britain’s two female directors were named Toye and Box.

    Buzz is one of those Burt/Bud/Buddy nicknames I have a bad feeling about.

    Niblo is a fine Scottish name, and was the nickname I gave Fiona’s cat, Trilby. Our current cat, Tasha, is very occasionally referred to as Tashlin.

  20. There is the occasional mellifluous Brit — Thorold Dickinson’s probably my favourite, with Anthony Asquith the runner up for sheer concentrated Englishness.

  21. AA has alliteration, “class” and a good nickname (“Puffin”) all working for him.

    Ken Annakin was good enough to make it into The Phantom Menace (no idea why, unless Lucas pilfered his WW2 movies for that notorious Star Wars first assemblage).

  22. Ha, I forgot about Puffin. Anthony “Puffin” Asquith might just be too much, well, everything.

  23. Funny how Asquith = top-hole blue-blood, yet Askwith = longhaired “oik.”

  24. A few that I love to pronounce:

    Les Blank
    Man Ray
    Kenneth Anger (Ken Anger would be an improvement)
    Claude Chabrol
    Guy Maddin
    Friz Freleng
    Budd Boetticher
    Renny Harlin
    Hou Hsiao-hsien (“how-shaoh-shenn”)
    Monte Hellman
    Ousmane Sembene (“oohs-mahn-semm-benn”)
    Wong Kar Wai
    Leos Carax
    Beat Takeshi the actor (not Takeshi Kitano the director)

    Francois Truffaut is nice because it sounds nice and gentle, but at the same time is pronounced “true foe”. My rapper name would be MC True Foe.

    I liked Frank Borzage more when I thought it rhymed with “corsage”. Now that I’ve heard it pronounced like boors-AYY-ghee, it’s less great.

    Apitchatpong Weerasethakul was also a favorite (“weir-uh-SETH-uh-cool”) until I heard it pronounced the correct(?) way in The Story of Film: “Vair-suh-THACK-ull”

    And if you pronounce it the way I do,
    ING-mar BERG-Man is a superhero.

    Of course, among actors it’s hard to top Peter Dinklage.

  25. I’ll see you your Peter Dinklage and raise you one Charles Puffy.

  26. Glad to see Guy Maddin get a shout-out, but surely the ne plus ultra in Canadian film-names is Atom Egoyan?

  27. True, the mighty Atom is hard to top in the nomenclature department. Puts Robert LePage in the shade.

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