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Michael Dugan Stern (born April 24, 1954) is an English film director who is widely regarded as one of the best active directors in Hollywood and England. He has directed eleven films, with his twelfth due to be released in 2012, and each of his films has been met with enormous critical acclaim. Stern has won three Academy Awards for Best Director, and those same films (Business, Welcome to Hollywood and Blood and Money) all won Best Picture that same year.
Michael Stern was born in Edinburgh in 1954 to Dugan Stern (1926-2004) and Anna Dunelane (1930-1997), as the eldest of six children. In 1960, the family moved to Sussex, England, where Stern was raised. In 1965, he was sent to the Birmingham School for Boys at the age of ten and graduated in 1973, after which he attended the English School for Arts for three years. In the mid-1970's, Stern worked for English Television Network as a camera operator and assistant director for commercials until he made his first short film, Rockman, in 1979 about a vigilante police officer.
In 1982, Stern became a regular writer on the gritty English police thriller County Crimes and directed three episodes, while working on a screenplay for an action film he had come up with several years earlier. In early 1984, Stern pitched his idea to Cinemagic Studios, and they agreed to fund his low-budget project titled Isotope.
The University (1987)
The Casual Conversation (1989)
Jackie Boy (1994)
Welcome to Hollywood (1998)
Freedom Fighter (2004)
Blood and Money (2007)
Making Vegas (2010)
Styles and Themes
Stern's films tend to focus on criminality, corruption and moral decay, and the failure of protagonists to not be corrupted themselves. For this reasons, his films are often referred to as a "rejection of morality," in that they argue that humanity is not necessarily inherently good or evil, just inherently weak. Many of his films often follow a similar trajectory, in which an idealistic but weak protagonist is abused and corrupted by darker influences, at times from friends, coworkers or mentors. Stern's films often have a recurring theme of the flawed mentor, in which the protagonist is clearly a product of his environment.
The idea of the flawed mentor corrupting an otherwise idealistic protagonist is prevalent throughout Stern's work, beginning in The University and continuing in The Casual Conversation, Revolt, and Traders. Stern has often commented that he believes a non-parental authority figure has the ability to change the protagonists drastically due to the desire to please. This is especially obvious in Traders.
Fall of the Protagonist
Most of Stern's later work also involves the protagonist's own fall. While the protagonist secures victory in The University and The Casual Conversation, most of Stern's films are designed as tragedies. For example, in Business, Billy Donovan is gunned down at the end by unknown assailants after his one-time confidant sells him out, and Watters in turn goes to prison. In both Traders and Welcome to Hollywood, the protagonists are left cynical by the end thanks to their own decisions, and have failed to win the women they sought. In both Revolt and Freedom Fighter, the corrupted protagonist is killed due to his perceived betrayal of his friends. While not every Stern film has quite as dark of endings, few have happy endings either.
Much like the ending of Business, both Jackie in Jackie Boy and McQueen in Blood and Money betray their friends to save themselves, and Dino and Frank in Making Vegas slaughter their opposition in the city to affirm control over Las Vegas. Stern has commented that "absolution of crime requires sacrifice," and that the point was to show characters forced to choose themselves over their friends. Stern's films also mimic the Story of America trilogy in that they tend to focus on a theme of betrayal leading to death.
Stern typically includes prevalent romantic interests in his films to force his characters into making an emotional decision. In a few of the films, one of the choices is an idealized "good" woman, while the other is a flawed "bad" woman or, in some cases, not a woman at all. As Stern's central protagonists have exclusively been males, many of his films explore the contrast between the psychological and personality compatability of its protagonists with different females.
The exception to this typical trend is in Welcome to Hollywood, where Ray is having affairs with two actresses, the young and spoiled Susan and the drug-addicted, cynical Charlotte. Both women are clearly flawed - while Susan is stable and does not partake in substance abuse, she is an emotionally immature and spoiled starlet whom Ray cannot connect with emotionally. While Ray likely loves Charlotte, she has a severe drug problem and is an unrealistic goal for a relationship. The imperfection of both women only increases Ray's own melancholy.
Often, characters are shown to choose the "wrong" love interest, and it is either portrayed as the catalyst for their eventual fall or a product of their ongoing fall. The object of desire may not be a woman at all - for example, in Traders, Mike chooses his career over Harleigh.