"It's better to burn out than to fade away." - Neil Young
Earlier today we learned that Quentin Tarantino wants to quit making movies before he's an old man, believing that he will output lesser works in his final years if he keeps going. It makes me wonder if that's something Steven Soderbergh is afraid of as well. But is the fear of declining talent more important than the possibility of unknown masterworks? Isn't it better to try and end up with mediocre films we simply forget about than to potentially keep the world from something terrific, like Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire or Ozu's An Autumn Afternon?
Of course, not many people see the final works of directors like Hitchcock, Fellini, Wilder, Kazan, Peckinpah, Capra and many others as so worthwhile. And here's where you can start arguing about whether Eyes Wide Shut, A Prairie Home Companion and Rio Lobo were good or bad swan songs for Kubrick, Altman and Hawks, respectively. Regardless, we still consider these filmmakers masters of their craft for their achievements without considering their lesser output, whenever they occurred, as detracting too much from their overall esteem.
Obviously there's no need to impose a Logan's Run-style age limit on filmmakers, no matter if we wish George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, John Carpenter, Tim Burton or any others should have stopped while they were ahead. We can thank 104-year-old Manoel de Oliveira, who is still putting out decent movies, as a long-living argument against the idea. Any one of those other guys could live so long and might still give us their best film before they die.
In the song that the above lyrics come from, Neil Young also notes that "once you're gone, you can never come back." That's not true with retirement, however, so if filmmakers like Tarantino and Soderbergh do leave they can always return if they're struck by a brilliant idea or a story they need to get out.
Should great filmmakers retire while on top rather than potentially go downhill in their career?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter:
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