The Auteur and His Muse: An Intimate Synergy

The muse sighs as the artist paints, scribbles or sculpts. She exists, and it's through her mere existence that he finds genius. In the movies, though, the art of inspiration works both ways --through the portal of the camera -- as director and actor summon a genius from each other of which they are incapable alone. There is adoration on the director's part, and a willingness by the actor to be adored, to be both blank slate and suggestive force.

David Lynch's "Inland Empire," the latest example of filmmaker and muse, puts Laura Dern through hell. Or you might say Dern is storming through hell and dragging Lynch with her. Either way, director and actor burrow toward each other from either side of the camera and arrive at something singular.

Hitchcock had his blondes-in-danger: Joan Fontaine in the '40s, Grace Kelly in the '50s and Tippi Hedren in the '60s. And Woody Allen's best work came through Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, graceful renderers of his piquant female characters.

It's an intimate collaboration, sometimes to a soundtrack of wedding bells: John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina, Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri, Atom Egoyan and Arsinee Khanjian. (Let's not talk about John and Bo Derek. On second thought, let's: "Tarzan, the Ape Man.")

Currently in theaters is the ninth collaboration of Zhang Yimou and Gong Li, "The Curse of the Golden Flower," and in their third feature Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz achieve a new level of cinematic maturity with "Volver."
-- Dan Zak, The Washington Post

Muse Views Poll

Which of these marks the best partnership between filmmaker and muse?

  Woody Allen & Diane Keaton
  Ingmar Bergman & Liv Ullmann
  Rainer Werner Fassbinder & Hanna Schygulla
  D.W. Griffith & Lillian Gish
  Jack Hill & Pam Grier
  David Lynch & Laura Dern
  Josef von Sternberg & Marlene Dietrich
  Quentin Tarantino & Uma Thurman
  Wong Kar Wai & Maggie Cheung
  John Waters & Divine
  Lina Wertmuller & Giancarlo Giannini
  Jean-Luc Godard & Anna Karina
  Vittorio de Sica & Sophia Loren
  Robert Altman & Shelley Duvall
  John Cassavetes & Gena Rowlands

View Survey Results

A look at seven noteworthy cinematic collaborations between director and muse

David Lynch & Laura Dern

Three pictures: "Blue Velvet" (1986), "Wild at Heart" (1990) and the current release "Inland Empire"

"We've got a shorthand," explains Lynch. "Between some people you can say very specific things and they don't understand you. Other people, you just say one or two strange words and move your hands and you've communicated volumes. It's just the way we are together."

"Having been directed by him since I was 17, he watched me grow up, and it's a very familiar relationship," says Dern. "We always joke that he feels like my big brother. We're highly irreverent, we're very truthful and we're not careful with each other -- which makes more room for creativity, for being real honest about what scares you."

D.W. Griffith & Lillian Gish

42 features, including "Intolerance" (1916) and "Broken Blossoms" (1919)

"Mr. Griffith always emphasized that the way to tell a story was with one's body and facial expressions," wrote Gish in her 1969 autobiography. "I learned from him how to use my body and face quite impersonally to create effects, much as a painter uses paint on canvas."

Jack Hill & Pam Grier

Four pictures, including "Coffy" (1973) and "Foxy Brown" (1974)

"When I first met her, I recognized that she had a marvelous authority," Hill says from his home in California. "By the time I got commissioned to make 'Coffy,' I was just fairly well acquainted with her personality, which gave me ideas for the characters -- her ability to be both a person of refinement and authority and, at the same time, bring out those kind of street qualities, that black-is-beautiful, black-power kind of thing."

Quentin Tarantino & Uma Thurman

Three pictures: "Pulp Fiction" (1994) and "Kill Bill: Vols. 1 & 2" (2003, 2004)

"Kill Bill" "was written for her and designed for her," said Tarantino in a 2003 Washington Post interview of the two-part martial arts epic starring Thurman. Tarantino has called Thurman "my actress," "my Marlene Dietrich."

"I think he's inspired, I think he's brilliant, I think that he's sometimes mad," Thurman told The Post. "He's given me a lot as a performer -- a lot of confidence, a lot of faith, a lot of challenges."

Josef Von Sternberg & Marlene Dietrich

Eight pictures, from "The Blue Angel" (1930) to "The Devil Is a Woman" (1935)

"I did not endow her with a personality that was not her own; one sees what one wants to see, and I gave her nothing that she did not already have," von Sternberg wrote of Dietrich in his 1965 autobiography. "What I did was to dramatize her attributes and make them visible for all to see."

"He was father confessor, critic, instructor, the one who adjusted himself to all my needs," Dietrich wrote in her 1987 autobiography. "He taught me a myriad things, in addition to English and my chosen profession -- acting. . . . He created me."

John Waters & Divine

Nine pictures, from "Roman Candles" (1966) to "Hairspray" (1988)

"I wrote vehicles for Divine, really," Waters said by phone from Los Angeles. "Divine's anger was something that was seething inside because he was so hassled in high school. And we used that anger to turn him into my stylish monster, and Divine loved being that. He certainly was my muse -- not that I'm comparing us to them, but I always read about Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich while growing up."

Ingmar Bergman & Liv Ullmann

Eleven pictures, from "Persona" (1966) to "Saraband" (2003)

"I'm enormously fascinated by her," Bergman said in a 1968 interview. "I see various roles mirrored in her face. It's a face which can lend itself to an immense number of different roles. And then, in private life, she rather appeals to me -- but that's another matter."

"We have a really wonderful mutual understanding," Ullmann said in a phone call last week. "Full of respect. And a deep friendship over 42 years. To recognize and be recognized, to trust and be trusted and give each other enormous freedom."

PHOTOS: Pascal Le Segretain - Getty Images

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