Monday, 21 September 2015

The Top 5 Directorial Debuts

You’ve gotta start somewhere. Before directors become legends of cinema, before their films get to the point where they’re instantly recognisable as theirs, before their name is as much of a pull as the cast – they have to make their first. Some don’t go well at all, and some are the director’s peaks. Here we shall look at 5 of the best. Now of course, many won’t make the list – it’d be hard enough making a Top 50, let alone top 5. But as always, I’ll try and cover a range of genres and styles.


Before Quentin Tarantino gave the world Pulp Fiction he made a little film called Reservoir Dogs, which in many people’s opinion still holds up as his finest work. After a simple jewellery heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant. In typical Tarantino style, the film’s narrative is unchronological and the screenplay is absolutely phenomenal (‘Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?’), delivered finely by an incredible cast of Tarantino regulars including Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth. And of course, what would a Tarantino film be without an uncomfortable attempt at acting from the director himself? Reservoir Dogs is violent and profane, but oozes cool and set Tarantino off on a filmmaking journey which isn’t showing any signs of stopping – his latest, The Hateful Eight, is released this Christmas.


Anyone who has seen a David Lynch film will know that he’s one messed up bloke. But he’s a genius. Without him we wouldn’t have such delights as Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet and Lost Highway. But it all started here, back in 1977. After making several bizarre short films, Lynch gave us his feature-length debut with the story of Henry Spencer (Lynch regular Jack Nance), a man trying to survive living in a dirty industrial environment with his angry girlfriend and the unbearable screams of their newly born mutant child. With its bleak black and white cinematography, almost constant disturbing sounds and very surreal imagery, it’s extremely unsettling and difficult to watch - but it’s one of the best films of the 1970s.


Ah, Citizen Kane. Widely regarded as one of the finest films in cinema history, it also serves as the legendary Orson Welles’ directorial debut. As well as directing, producing and co-writing the classic; Welles delivers one of his best performances as Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper magnate based in part upon William Randolph Hearst. The film is gloriously ahead of its time in its style, telling a very interesting story with flashbacks and twists in a non-linear narrative that doesn’t feel remotely dated. Despite being something of a ‘flop’ on release, Citizen Kane has since rightly earned its place in the top 5 of almost ever Greatest Films Ever Made list in the last 50 years – and Orson Welles was only 25 years old when he made it. A truly visionary piece of cinema, which continues to remind audiences that Hollywood just ‘don’t make ‘em like they used to’.


In 1974, first-time director Tobe Hooper and a cast of relative unknowns worked 7 days a week under the burning sun on a miniscule budget to create The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Telling the ‘true’ story (the film is loosely based upon Ed Gein, as is Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs) of a group of teenagers being hunted down, killed and eaten by a sadistic cannibal clan, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was widely banned and pulled from release in several countries due to the unprecedented violent content. But despite this, it still grossed over $30 million in one of the most enormously profitable film releases in history – especially considering the amount of theatres that couldn’t or wouldn’t show the film. The popularity of the film has made the masked killer Leatherface an instantly recognisable figure in popular culture, and has gone on to spawn sequels, remakes and even comic books.


While it might seem strange to include a comedy in the list of the finest directorial debuts, there’s something about This is Spinal Tap that feels infinitely right in this list. Directed by Rob Reiner (who went on to direct Stand By Me, The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally), This is Spinal Tap is a phenomenally funny mockumentary about the fictional heavy rock band Spinal Tap, portrayed convincingly and hilariously by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. Infinitely quotable, the film has given one phrase in particular to the modern vernacular – for something to ‘go to 11’. So much so, This is Spinal Tap is the only film on IMDb to not be rated out of 10. Yes, you guessed it – it’s rated out of 11. One of the funniest films of all time and an extremely confident directorial debut, it would be rude to not end this list with This is Spinal Tap.

Sam Love

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