THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
First Works - A Revealing Look at Today's Greatest Directors sounds like something film lovers should be scooping up by the armful. Offering up peeks at student films by
such notables as Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Robert Zemeckis, Spike
Lee and John Carpenter, this 300 minute presentation should be one two-disc set with something
for nearly everyone. What the title doesn't tell you, however, is that
the disc doesn't simply present these films but rather hides them in
interminable "documentaries" on each filmmaker. Consisting of little
more than video footage of each director staring directly into the
camera rattling on and on about their films, each segment is a poorly
constructed look at interesting individuals.
Regular readers of
reviews might be wondering how I could find fault with this. Don't I
regularly shower some of these very same directors with endless
compliments and praise? Yes, but just because I think Scorsese is a lot
of fun to listen to (I've attended several lectures he's given) or that
Stone's combat perspective on the Vietnam war gives his opinions added
weight doesn't mean that randomly edited, thematically unstructured and
virtually endless video clips of these same people can keep the
attention. I mean, Scorsese is so uncomfortable in this setting that he constantly fidgets with a pencil like he's at his first job interview. I almost felt sorry for him.
Narrated with the personality of an infommercial for the
Salad Shooter, First Works is no better than public access
programming. Most of the clips are a decade old, so the filmmakers
mostly about their latest films from that time and nothing more current. There is value in this
material and certainly fans of the individual filmmakers might want to
see it for itself, but the format is a mess.
The student films themselves (once you locate them) are far better.
Scorsese's wonderful It's Not Just You, Murray to John Milius'
surprisingly colorful and experimental animated Marcello, I Am
Bored, these are pieces that alternately display these
artists already developing their signature styles and working in ways
that seem in opposition to their later works. Susan Seidelman's
short takes the perspective of an unsatisfied wife, an early
indication of the strong female perspective of her features. Stone's
NYU film is rough in form, but it has the haunted imagery of a
veteran having trouble adjusting back into society (and it includes
super-8 footage he shot during the war.)
Even with the shorts, however, there are disappointments. Scorsese's
What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing In a Place Like This? is only
shown for a few seconds and Spike Lee's Joe's Bed-Stuy Barber Shop:
We Cut Heads is only excerpted. Carpenter's contribution is a clip
from Dark Star, a student project that he expanded into a
feature, available in its entirety elsewhere.
Includes: Richard Benjamin, John Carpenter, Roger Corman, Richard
Donner, Taylor Hackford, Ron Howard, Spike
Lee, Paul Mazursky, John Milius, Martin Scorsese, Susan Seidelman, Oliver Stone, and Robert Zemeckis
The video is pretty poor. The presentation is full-screen and most of
the interview segments are blurry and indistinct. The student films
in quality, mostly due to the source material. Still, it could surely
have been given a better treatment.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is nothing spectacular. Talking heads are
the order of the day and the sound is equally simple.
Just some filmographies for the featured directors.
First Works is a title with a lot of promise. It doesn't
deliver thanks to a lackluster production style but for fans of the
featured filmmakers it could still prove indispensable.