Editor's Note: Previous lists by moi if you click here, by Rod Bishop here and here by Bruce Hodsdon . Then head for Michael Campi here and Paul Harris here
The basic rules are:
Try and think of ten films by a first time director that absolutely knocked your socks off when you saw them. If you can't think of ten then choose a number.... Don’t go back and tell me the first Mizoguchi, the first Hawks or the first von Sternberg ....and forget about that Bradman equivalent Citizen Kane, even if it was the first film by Orson Welles you ever saw.
That’s not what I mean. I want you to tell the moment when you saw a director’s first film and you went WOW!!! Because you knew nothing about this person but you instantly expected the director to become a major film-making talent.
Sometimes of course you were wrong and their talents either proved to be one shots or less than meets the eye. Sometimes they were wildly talented but still proved to be one-shots. The rules are flexible but the nominations must be first features.
Entries invited to email@example.com
Adrian writes: 10 (actually, 13) Best First Films (plus a Bonus category)
The Spirit of the Beehive (Víctor Erice, 1973). Erice’s career took a fairly typical run-up through writing criticism and making a short before this stunning, poetic masterpiece. Still inexhaustible, after all these years. And Erice, alas, has had all too few opportunities to make features since, even though he has stayed a major figurehead of world film culture.
The Mystical Rose (Michael Lee, 1976). I got deeply into avant-garde cinema in the later ‘70s, with many thanks to Arthur Cantrill’s class at Melbourne State College. Australia boasts one of the feature-length classics of experimental cinema. Lee went into radically different directions, both cinematically and philosophically, after this angry, blasphemous film of his youth – but what a blast it remains.
King Blank (Michael Oblowitz, 1983). This was another NFTA discovery, in a “New York Stories” season that contained several jolts and revelations. Oblowitz’s odd career has gone in various, semi-commercial directions after this purely punk debut, but King Blank is an emblem of the ‘No Wave’ of its era, with superb acting. It also gave rise to one of the most memorable quotes in critical history, from the still notorious (especially on Facebook!) Louis Skorecki – and, in fact, I can cite this from memory: “It wields the effect of a vicious slap in the face, after a particularly tepid caress”! No truer words …
Hexed (Alan Spencer, 1993). For years, I figured that the writer-director of this delirious, amazing comedy (which I discovered on VHS) must be some poor schmuck who never got a second shot at the game – until I checked his Wikipedia page and learned that he has enjoyed many lucrative years as an anonymous Hollywood script doctor. Weird fate! Hexed is, in my not-very-humble opinion (IMNVHO), the Film That Would Be Cult. If only more people would watch it.
Angel Baby (Michael Rymer, 1995). In the same year as Vacant Possession, I was impressed by this tough, amour fou tale of battlers in love – which even managed to bring a surrealistic, re-creative eye to Melbourne’s geography. Rymer has stayed busy since then, mostly beyond Australia, working in the horror and SF genres, and clocking up a lot of top-notch TV (such as Hannibal); his improvisatory experiment Perfume (2001) is worth catching, too.
Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic, 2004). This is the capsule I wrote for The Age MIFF coverage of 2005: “The worth of some films is evident from the strength and confidence of their opening moments, and Hadzihalilovic’s astonishing debut (definitely not be confused with Paul Cox’s film of the same name) is a prime example. Freely based on Frank Wedekind’s disquieting tale of the ‘physical education of young girls’, it is an inspired blend of surrealism, shock-tactics, elegant perversity, social critique and the fractured fairy tales of the Female Gothic. Evoking an unlikely but wholly successful mix of The Virgin Suicides, Irreversible and Goto, Isle of Love, it is a poetic and horrific modern classic.”
BONUS: 5 Cases Where Only Their Second Feature Really Convinced Me –
Larry Clark: Another Day in Paradise (1998)
Agnès Varda: Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)
Abel Ferrara: Ms .45 (1981)
James Gray: The Yards (2000)
Shirley Barrett: Walk the Talk (2000)