First Films

Eraserhead

I love looking at filmmakers’ early work. Sure, it might be juvenile or lacking the grace of experience, but it’s also the artistic eye before fame, celebrity personas or narrowly honed visions. It’s the work they made before output was partially (if not totally) influenced by investors, studios and critics. First films can be like cinematic diaries of the directors’ vision – like David Lynch’s iconic Eraserhead, which is now on Criterion Blu-ray with almost all of his short films – or whiffs of artistry before the mainstream. Some, sadly, are still out of reach to the Internet masses, though they’d be fascinating first glimpses at cinematic themes and techniques. Long before 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen debuted with a revealing video installation, Bear, which only makes the rounds at live events. Kathryn Bigelow “plays down” her first film from 1978, The Set-Up, where Gary Busey and another guy fight each other as semioticians deconstruct the images – a film that certainly speaks to her future work, but hasn’t been released for modern audiences. And though someone who thinks they’re clever put up a slave scene on YouTube, insisting it was Spike Lee’s first film, his debut – the Super 8 film Last Hustle in Brooklyn – is actually about “Black people and Puerto Rican people looting and dancing.” Those three might remain out of reach, but here eight filmmakers’ early visions that speak to humor, darkness, unexpected twists, and for one – an artistry before an obsession with […]

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Daniel Stamm‘s A Necessary Death is like a shot of whiskey that’s easy to pour but not easy to drink. His directorial debut (which won him the job for The Last Exorcism) follows a film student making a documentary about a man preparing for, and going through with, his suicide. It’s difficult territory to be certain, but it’s handled with grace, humor, and more than a few touching moments which make the horror of the inevitable and the twisting emotions growing in the film crew that much harder to handle. It’s an excellent movie, and Stamm joins us to delve deeper into its creation (and audience’s reactions). Download Episode #138

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Why Watch? Charlie Chaplin‘s first film, Making a Living, features the man who would go on to be the planet’s biggest star donning a top hat and the creepiest face he could muster. It’s the earliest example of his potential for genius, and one of the few where we get to see a talent that’s still in the raw. By his next film, Kid Auto Races at Venice, he had debuted his Little Tramp character and launched a career in earnest. So, what better way is there to spend Labor Day than to watch how Chaplin worked? What does it cost? Just 9 minutes of your time. Check out Making a Living for yourself:

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For those of you new to the column: I’m retracing my personal history, recalling formative events in my life that made me what I am today: A Special Effects Make Up Artist looking for relevance in the 21st Century. I have learned about liquid latex and at this point, I needed a camera. These are between my 15th and 16th years… Growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s was a challenging time for burgeoning filmmakers. There were no consumer video cameras, no computers with editing software, and certainly no digital cameras. I recently heard someone describe this as the “Photo-Chemical Age” in an attempt to make it sound horrible and archaic. After all, now we can shoot, edit, and post our films more easily than sitting through 80% of what Hollywood has to offer these days. Well, it was the opposite back then. Motion Pictures were fantastic, and the theater experience was a tremendous joy, but making your own movies required a level of commitment that certainly would discourage anyone with a mild interest. Equipment wasn’t cheap and it had its limitations as well. Call it what you will, but the Photo-Chemical Age was glorious as well as frustrating.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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