Herbert Ross was one of the more successful Hollywood directors from the '70s to the '90s, but I've been thinking recently about the extent one can say they love Herb Ross movies. Now, most of his films are enjoyable, light entertainments, like Play It Again, Sam, Footloose, The Secret of My Success, Steel Magnolias, and Undercover Blues. To ask whether Ross is responsible for these being good movies strikes me as a question well worth considering.
The reason I'm bringing this up is because I coincidentally saw in the last month two of Ross' films and noted that he didn't write either of them. Then I scanned the 25 or so films he made and saw he never wrote or co-wrote any of them (at least as far as the credits go-any input he may have had on the screenplays will remain unknown for now). And not only that, but some of his best work has been with screen-writing greats like Woody Allen and Neil Simon.
That begs the question: is Ross just a name behind these movies or did he really influence them? What I can say for sure is he got the pictures moving. He knew how to work a production, as seen by the fact that he made lots of studio movies over several decades. Ross was a professional who understood the moviemaking process. He was like a sturdy ship captain, someone who knew what needed to be done and could tell people to do it.
This query is nothing new, and can be more aptly applied to names like Eastwood, Wise, and Lumet, directors who aren't writers and don't possess any real signature elements to make their work stand out. I mention Ross mainly just because he's on my mind at the moment (the most recent film of his I saw, by the way, was My Blue Heaven, a Steve Martin comedy that wasn't good simply because it wasn't very well written, which raises another question, namely should someone like Ross be blamed if the film is lousy?) and because he largely made light crowd pleasers, which means he did at least seem to have an agenda to his filmmaking career (as opposed to Lumet or Wise, who moved between genres all the time).
What I can say is that if a director isn't writing their own material and they don't display any immediate sense of style, one can't ignore that these people still made lots of pictures, meaning they understood the craft of guiding a movie. Whether they're like Lumet or Wise, who intentionally trying not to draw attention to the camera, or whether they simply didn't have much of an artistic sense, they still were leaders who understood a difficult process and made the end results work.
Whether it's art is another matter.