Sunday 7 January 2018

The Ten Best First Films (2) - Producer, critic and former CEO of AFTRS Rod Bishop weighs in

Editor's Note: This holiday parlour game started when Rod Bishop suggested a novel new way of finding a Top Ten. My own initial contribution can be found if you click here 

In  brief, 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.  A degree of cheating and special pleading will be tolerated. Entries welcome. Send them to Geoff Gardner and please could someone mention Jacques Rozier's Adieu Philippine which I inadvertently committed from my own list.

Here's Rod's list:

Dutch Poster, A Question of Silence
A Question of Silence (Marleen Gorris, 1982)
Running a screen studies course for cynical, hipper-than-thou, know-it-all art students in the 1980s was a tough gig. Thank God for the emergence of Marleen Gorris and her gender-dividing first feature. All that cool art school posturing literally went out the door as discussion would stretch beyond an hour and degenerate into gender-divided shouting matches in the corridors.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)
Zeitlin’s second feature is due this year and there will be great expectations after this wild ride through the “Bathtub” in the Louisiana wetlands. I know people more than forty years younger than I who couldn’t stand the film, damning it with that withering phrase “way too indie”.

Duel (Steven Spielberg, 1971)
For reasons I can no longer remember, the Footscray Grand was the place to see the fully formed talent of Steven Spielberg on display in his gripping first feature film (although it was released as a TV movie in the USA). Much like the fear of swimming generated by his later Jaws (1975), seeing a monstrous truck in the rear vision mirror on the open road would never to be the same again.

Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1948)
Cheating here, it was only after Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969) when Polonsky was released after decades on the communist blacklist, that I caught up with this thinly veiled critique of capitalism, a masterpiece based around brothers with opposing moral compasses in illicit racketeering.

Ivan’s Childhood (Andrey Tarkovsky, 1962)
Cheating again, but the haphazard way Tarkovsky’s films reached Western audiences is an excuse. This tale of an orphan fighting for Russia against the Nazi invaders is evidence of another fully formed talent and every bit as good as Elem Klimov’s final film Come and See (1986).

The Night of Counting the Years
The Night of Counting the Years (Shadi Abdel Salam, 1969)
This first and only feature by Salam about Egyptian tomb robbers in Thebes was recently voted the best Arab film ever made. A tragedy that Salam subsequently spent 10 unsuccessful years trying to make his second feature about Ancient Egypt’s most fascinating figure, Pharaoh Akhenaten.

The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
The first and only feature by thespian Laughton mixed German Expressionism with Gothic horror and gave Robert Mitchum the chance to play one of cinema’s great psychopaths.

Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
The master begins. Absorbing portrait of rural Bengalese village life and the first in the much celebrated Apu Trilogy.

Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009)
Deserving winner of the Camera d’Or and one of our great Indigenous films. While a student at AFTRS, Thornton’s sister Erica Glynn made a similar (and equally great) 17 minute short My Bed, Your Bed (1998). 

Thief (Michael Mann, 1981)
Jewel thief tries a one-off final heist to take him and his lover out of the business for good. The conflicted crime characters in Mann’s films are often reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Melville and as many have pointed out, in his first film Mann’s trademark atmospheric direction is (once again) fully formed.


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