Directing a feature film is like riding a bicycle. It's unrealistic to believe that a neophyte director, tasked with keeping a cast and crew in check and moving forward, will display the artistic and managerial acumen to produce a classic the first time out. A few films with the training wheels, and perhaps the odd scabbed knee, are to be expected.
There have been exceptions, however, directors who seemed to have an innate understanding of how to manipulate the medium and produce quality work their first time behind the camera. Here are a few examples:
BLOOD SIMPLE (1984): Siblings Joel and Ethan Coen write and direct their films cooperatively. Their first film, a sexy neo-noir set in Texas, gives audiences a peek at their early promise and stands as a classic crime caper.
CITIZEN KANE (1941): A very young (25) Orson Welles, having only a couple of negligible short features and some stage productions as credits, was offered complete control of the film that many consider the finest ever made. It is visually inventive, well-written and acted, and courageously political. The best ever made? It's tough to award that accolade to any one film, but Kane certainly is a candidate.
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992): Former video store clerk Quentin Tarantino rose to prominence with this bloody black comedy about a jewel heist that goes wrong. Although the distinctive style has been copied countless times since its release, there's still some visceral thrill left in this film.
THE MALTESE FALCON (1941): John Huston, the son of character actor Walter Huston, had only a few writing credits to his name when Warner Bros. offered him a chance to handle an adaptation of this Dashiell Hammett novel. The film not only was a popular and critical success, earning three Academy Award nominations, but also became the template from which an entire genre, film noir, was developed.
AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999): British director Sam Mendes' first film, a black comedy set in suburbia, cemented the theater director's reputation behind a camera. Though Mr. Mendes has proved less than prolific, with only Road to Perdition and the upcoming Jarhead to his credit since, his eye for visual storytelling and ear for dialogue should carry him for many years.
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