As a learned cineaste and master of the auteurial arts, I have learned to develop many erudite and penetrating theories concerning the art of the auteurs of the cinema. One of my infallible theories is this: the summit any auteur's art is achieved on his or her twelfth film. At this precise nexus of art and experience, something magical happens, and a masterpiece is created. Under this theory, everything before the twelfth film in a filmography can be aptly described as juvenilia -- of academic interest in viewing the development of the auteur's powers and craft, but not as mature works of art. The films made after a dozen efforts may retain an imprimatur of greatness, but most of these can be largely described as refinement and honing of that ineffable twelfth film.
While those of you not nearly as well versed in auteurial study may express skepticism, my theories are, in fact, unassailable. They are arrived at after decades of talmudic examination of various directors' careers, and ladies and sirs, I will kindly suggest here that your auteurist knowledge is but a pittance -- a mere wad of sticky bubblegum -- compared to my vast Great Wall of cinematic knowledge.
Let's apply my theory to two of the great auteurs, Orson Welles and Jean Renoir. It is clear, after careful analyses of their respective oeuvres, that Welles' The Immortal Story, his twelfth feature by my count, is his crowning achievement, the most perfect synthesis of his late baroque style with his goal to cinematically transcribe high literature. While philistines champion Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons, overlooking Welles' psychologically insecure mise-en-scene and ham-fisted storytelling, Immortal Story's sublime poetics eludes the grasp of their sophomoric aesthetics. The same goes for Renoir, whose otherwise formidable body of work -- including the vaunted Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion -- are largely Ravellian variations on and restatements of the extraordinary La nuit du Carrefour, the first perfect statement of Renoir's cinematic Balzacianism.
This brings me to the American Cinematheque's screening of Howard Hawks' rarely screened twelfth and thirteenth features, The Crowd Roars and Tiger Shark. As I am on record declaring Hawks to be one of the top three directors in my personal pantheon, I was especially eager to see what would undoubtedly be his greatest work. Indeed, immediately after the screening, I was ready to declare The Crowd Roars one of the greatest narrative features of all-time. That is, until some killjoys in the lobby announced that what just screened wasn't the Hawks movie at all, but a film with the same title directed by one Richard Thorpe. A mix-up of prints, it turns out.
Disappointed, I remembered a corollary to the Magic 12 theory, which is this: if the twelfth feature is otherwise unavailable, then an auteur's most perfect film will be his thirteenth. As luck would have it, the next feature, Tiger Shark, is Hawks' thirteenth. As predicted, it was an astonishing statement of Hawks' main themes of group masculinity under strain and the existentialism of work, with Hawks' virtuoso flat visual field and his indescribably moving editing choices, from that tear-inducing cut in the third act from tracking establishing shots to a static two-shot of Robinson and friend placed vertically on the boat (in homage, no doubt, to von Stroheim's shot of same in Queen Kelly), to the anguished close-ups that make the viewer recall not a mere film, but Goya's stark, raw paintings of fallen warriors. Oh, you will find ignorant critics that will cite Red River or Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday or Rio Bravo or perhaps The Big Sleep as Hawks' best film. But they are all wrong. Hawks' masterpiece is in fact Tiger Shark. At least until I see The Crowd Roars.
(And if you happened to be an idiot who is still not convinced by my superior reasoning above, Tiger Shark is still worth watching for auteurist and non-auteurist reasons. It's a Hawksian romantic triangle set in San Diego among immigrant tuna fisherman, with Edward G. Robinson playing a flaming Portugese fisherman whose hook-arm renders him undesirable to women. Yes, it is even more bizarre than it sounds.)