Much like in any other art, film-makers place a large amount of emphasis on their debut pieces. Essentially used as a reference point for the remainder of their careers, directors must ensure that their debut makes some kind of impact. Here are some of the more notable debuts from over the years- all of which have remained as a prominent work throughout their respective directors careers.
10. Eraserhead – David Lynch (1977)
Defining an entire age of independently produced cinema, David Lynch created the unmistakable Eraserhead rather early on in his career. The piece, which documents the day to day bleakness of one man’s life in a surrealist black and white existence, has become a cult classic and is often cited as a main influence upon filmmakers today. Eraserhead was Lynch’s first full length film, created on a shoestring budget following the success of prior short works.
9. Mad Max – George Miller (1979)
As one of the first of an increasingly popularly ‘dystopian’ genre, Mad Max is a frantic journey into a post-apocalyptic future where it’s every man for himself. Starring a very fresh faced Mel Gibson as the central protagonist, Mad Max tells the tale of one man and his journey across a desolate Australia circa once the world as we know it has ended. Encountering many grim individuals upon his way, Max must use his cunning to overcome some rather intense situations. All in all an excellent debut from Miller which helped put the Australian film industry on the map.
8. Citizen Kane – Orson Wells (1941)
Directing and starring in this, his debut work- Orson Wells established himself as the fearless yet gifted and competent filmmaker he became known as soon after. Set around the fall of a certain newspaper mogul and his media empire, Citizen Kane blends elements of several separate styles- from noir to biopic via satire- Wells’ first movie is a real showcase of the man’s talents in his field- wherein he is still known as an early pioneers.
7. Bloodsimple – Coen Brothers (1984)
A tireless voyage of darkness set in the Texan desert, Bloodsimple did well to inform the world of the themes which could be expected in the brothers’ later works. Showing their tastes for deadpan and nihilistic humour as well as an endless cabaret of characters- each one of them as odd as the previous- Bloodsimple was a solid debut on all fronts. Despite having maybe become more conventional over the years, the Coen brothers still adhere to many of the aforementioned themes.
6. This is Spinal Tap – Rob Reiner (1984)
With his debut, Rob Reiner really set the premise of ‘mockumentary’ as a plausible comedy format. Imitated many times since, This is Spinal Tap has become a comical institution- as well as doing incredibly well commercially. The film follows the hilarious mishaps of a hard rock band as they fade slowly into obscurity- doing well to highlight the pressures of the music industry as a whole in the process. Hosting an array of classic scenes and quotes alike, Reiner’s personal appearance as fictional documentarian ‘Marty DiBergi’ adds a whole other dimension.
5.Reservoir Dogs – Quentin Tarantino (1992)
Quentin’s charismatic debut is frequently disregarded in favour of his later work, this is a real shame in my opinion- as it most certainly acts to introduce many of the trademark quirks which would be championed with the release of the likes of ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Kill Bill’. Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth and an always entertaining Michael Madsen star (amongst others) as the members of a crew put together to perform a diamond heist. Mixing hard-to-watch brutality with satirical and flawless dialogue- Reservoir Dogs was a sure sign that Quentin could and would take over the industry.
4. Clerks – Kevin Smith (1994)
The first of several cult comedy classics from Kevin Smith, Clerks has established itself as a favourite of mine. Shot in the store where Smith himself worked at the time, Clerks follows the exploits of a pair of friends who work together as convenience store clerks. Very conversationally based, the plot is effectively based around the many encounters the two young men have with a wide array of acquaintances over the course of a typical day. Shot entirely in black in white, Clerks was made for under $30,000- so when it grossed around $3million upon its release, Smith was able to quit his job in the store.
3. The Shawshank Redemption – Frank Darabont (1994)
Very commonly cited as one of the most touching and inspiring pieces of film ever created, Frank Darabont could not have realistically done much better when creating his first movie. With a plot surrounding a successful accountant and his wrongful conviction for murder- The Shawshank Redemption challenges the infrastructure and purity of the American correctional system circa 1940/50/60. A strong cast featuring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman is complimented perfectly by the graceful way in which the fascinating story is committed to film.
2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Tobe Hooper (1974)
Inspired by the crimes of notorious murderer Ed Gein, Tobe Hooper co-wrote, produced and directed this highly impactful slasher/horror at a time when to do so was to make a rather large statement. The plot follows a group of friends who are subject to attack from a particularly vicious family of cannibals whilst on a recreational journey. The film, although banned outright in numerous countries worldwide upon its release, is nonetheless a milestone in filmmaking- especially within the horror genre as a whole.
1. Donnie Darko – Richard Kelly (2001)
Before its release, Kelly’s debut was originally tipped to go straight to video format. Actor Drew Barrymore (who features in the movie) however managed to swing a theatrical release via her own production company- and it’s just as well. The film has grown to cultish proportions since- tying together a dark plot with visceral and surreal imagery, complete with an inspired soundtrack. The piece was made when Kelly was just 27, it’s no surprise then that it secured his place amongst peers as a bit of big shot. The same effect also transcended onto a yet-to-break Jake Gyllenhaal, who portrays Donnie in his first lead role.