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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Creatives, Mavericks and Non-Conformists in the Movies

Creatives, Mavericks and Non-Conformists in the Movies

Herd of Sheep Mentality vs Creativity - 3268zauber

Movie plots need conflicts and tensions. Readily available is the solo fight against society, the system, big business or baddie(s). Atticus Finch opposing racial prejudice in small town America in To Kill A Mocking Bird (1962) is the beating heart of the story: it rings true. Rebel Without a Cause (1955) made James Dean the maverick star.

Lynch-mob mentality of hysterical masses clamouring for somebody’s blood makes a perfect protagonist. The voice in the wilderness, the lone person of conscience/courage within the crowd, is the stuff of inspiration. Those who refuse to toe the (unjust) line are often regarded as heroes, but not till later.

Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke (1729 -1797) is attributed with: ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’. The truth of that is grit to directors. Mavericks who stand against received or popular wisdom are labelled eccentric, weird or downright mad.

Creativity, Rebellion and Mavericks

According to Professor Tom Filsinger in his book Creativity and Rebellion: Why They Go Hand-in-Hand, creatives struggle in overly structured environments. ‘Studies on creative people have consistently demonstrated that creativity is associated with openness to new ideas, risk-taking, and being inner-directed. Do these traits put creative people at odds with the culture and people around them? The answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no’.

Some work groups suffer from ‘groupthink’, believing in their own superiority, valuing conformity, resisting new ideas. They send covert/overt messages of rejection to people who are different or stand out from their crowd, which causes creative people to ‘adopt a rebellious attitude regarding rules and authority’.

Creative people usually prosper ‘as artists, entrepreneurs or in professions that encourage openness, risk-taking and eccentricity’. Filsinger called creative people ‘the dark menace of the universe’ because creatives are often misunderstood by others.

In 1999, Rolling Stone Magazine published a list of films made by ‘mavericks who busted rules to follow their obsessions… in the defiant spirit of rock & roll’. Besides rebels within movies, ‘maverick’ creative directors produced such classics as: Coppola’s Godfather Trilogy (1972, 74, 90), against all odds making a mafia family into a sympathetic, credible influence; and Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), a mad tale that had always obsessed him.

John Ford tackled ‘racism inherent in cowboys vs Indians’ in The Searchers (1956); the innovative breadth of vision in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Orson Welle’s debut Citizen Kane (1941); macho rituals in Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980); troubled director Polanski’s Chinatown (1974); John Huston’s ‘breaking all the rules’ in The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) and the ‘reinvention of film form’ by Tarantino in Pulp Fiction (1994) all made it into The 100 Greatest.

Other contenders included Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950); Charles Laughton’s only directed film The Night of the Hunter (1955); Siegel’s subversive sci-fi Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956); Roeg’s chilling Don’t Look Now (1973); Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977); John ‘the father of American mavericks’ Cassavetes’ Faces (1968); All the President’s Men (1976) and Terry Gilliam’s gifts for satire and production design ‘created a nightmare vision of dehumanisation’ in Brazil (1985).

Non-Conformists In Films

That creative rebellion is reflected in outstanding film characters should be no surprise. Alternative Reel suggested top movies featuring non-conformists, warning that for many people, nonconformity is a form of conformity, and that ideas or people being new, odd or unpopular doesn’t make them nonconformists. Conformity can only be measured against the mores of the time.

Barfly (1987), offered a determined rejection of what everybody has to do; Into the Wild (2007), student abandoned possessions to hitchhike to Alaska; V for Vendetta (2005), a look at surveillance systems coercing conformity; Dead Poets Society (1989), a teacher raging against things and inspiring students to make their lives extraordinary, although some argue he was too comfortable in his life to be a nonconformist; and Five Easy Pieces (1970), upper-class US dropout.

Fight Club (1999), channelled primal male aggression; Easy Rider (1969), rebel bikers on the American hippie road; Harold and Maude (1971) death-obsessed teenager and anarchic old woman; Cool Hand Luke (1967), prisoner refusing to conform; and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Jack Nicholson feigned craziness in a madhouse, fought against petty authority. Observers have noted just how many of these have starred Jack Nicholson.

Other contenders for the list could include ‘The Dude’ in The Big Lebowski (1998); the two unemployed/unemployable actors in Withnail and I (1987); Renton trying to clean up and escape drugs and friends in Trainspotting (1997); outlaw biker film The Wild One (1953); pirate radio DJ speaking his mind in Pump Up the Volume (1990); and the troubled teenager in Donnie Darko (2001).

Equally, people seeking their ‘inner idiots‘ in The Idiots (1998); the Mexican underworld road trip in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974); the surveillance expert in The Conversation (1974); wise-cracking private investigator in The Long Goodbye (1973): teenage girl and older boyfriend in Badlands (1973) or the slight variation in Bonny and Clyde (1967) could make the non-conformism list.

Furthermore, perversity, violence and evil in Blue Velvet (1986); increasing isolation of the Taxi Driver (1976); Bertolucci’s weak-willed assassin in The Conformist (1970); Spanish-American conflicts in Smoking Room (2002); controversial Venezuelan dictatorship movie The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2003) and revenge plot The Take (2007) have also been argued for inclusion. However, perhaps 90% of all movies revolve around somebody refusing to obey rules.

Just as on stage, rebellion by adolescents or older (About Schmidt, 2002) makes good, recycled cinematic spectacle. However much young people want to or are made to conform, the desire to defy authoritarianism is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. That’s why the last world war is so fascinating in all its horror. And why movies will always be inspired by the odd, the different, the unusual and the challenging.

First published on Suite 101, 20 November 2010.

Photo: Herd of Sheep Mentality vs Creativity – 3268zauber

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