The First Features List

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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The First Features List

#1 Post by domino harvey » Wed Jun 09, 2021 2:24 pm

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THE FIRST FEATURES LIST
(June 17 - July 29)


Compose a list of no more and no less than 25 feature films in ranked order and submit to me, domino harvey, by July 30 2021

What is eligible?
- Film must be feature length, which for these purposes is longer than 40 minutes. Cases of extreme closeness will be decided on case by case basis
- Only one film per director, because duh
- Director must be credited with directing on-screen. Exceptions may be made if extremely compelling evidence bears out a film qualifying, but don't ask about anything you aren't going to vote on
- For first features credited solely to a single director only, unless the director is widely known for working in a duo. In these cases, subsquent solo works are not eligible, as these aren't really first films. See below for some prominent examples

the Coens : Blood Simple
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris : Little Miss Sunshine
the Wachowskis : Bound

- Early co-directing credits for directors who quickly went on to solo direct (Une balle dans le canon, the Curse of the Cat People) are not eligible
- If the first solo credited feature is lost (actually lost, not just unavailable on DVD), I may designate the oldest available film as eligible for our list's purposes. Ask first, though

Exceptions:
- West Side Story counts, but for Jerome Robbins only. The Robert Wise vote has to go to Mademoiselle Fifi

UPDATE:
domino harvey wrote:
Sun Jun 13, 2021 10:44 am
Okay, my adjustment is this: there are a lot of films that technically fit the perimeters of this list but don't qualify for the spirit of it. But that gets some of you super hard so that's okay. The new rule is an adjusted version of Vote For It, namely:

> You may select only one film per director on your list, but that film could be the first shorter work (that's still at least 40 minutes long-- that's not going away) or the first full-length film
> You may select the film that came chronologically first or was discovered much later after the fact
> This means there MAY be two appearances on the final board list by the same director. Want your (hopefully sane) choice to be the one that factors into the final list? Campaign for it
> Lost first features may be substituted with the oldest surviving film of that director, but you absolutely must ask me specifically which film you want to be eligible to get a ruling in advance. I will throw out lists which skip this step

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domino harvey
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Re: The First Features List

#2 Post by domino harvey » Wed Jun 09, 2021 2:25 pm

Pre-game away!

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zedz
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Re: The First Features List

#3 Post by zedz » Wed Jun 09, 2021 7:33 pm

This looks like fun.

I quickly drew up a list of contenders (which was way too long) and promptly found that the majority of them did not actually qualify for inclusion, because the director made at least one film over 40 minutes in length prior to it.

So, for the record, the following films are NOT eligible for this project:
Paris nous appartient - Rivette (both Le Quadrille and Le Divertissement hit 40 minutes)
Die Parallelstrasse - Khittl (Werkstatt fur Europa, 1957 - a feature documentary)
Ivan's Childhood - Tarkovsky (The Roadroller and the Violin, 1961 - Tarkovsky's dullest film)
Dragon's Return - Grecner (Every Week, Seven Days, 1964)
A Swedish Love Story - Andersson (Lordagen den 5.10, 1969)
Traveller - Kiarostami (The Experience, 1973 - still a great film, however)
Spirit of the Beehive - Erice (Los Dias Perdidos, 1963)
Sherman's March - McElwee (Charleen, 1977 - a lot of fun, but not an all-timer)
Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story - Haynes (Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud, 1985)
Horse Thief - Zhuangzhuang (Women de Jiaoluo, 1980)
Buffalo 66 - Gallo (Gallo 2000, 1989)
Honour of the Knights - Serra (Crespia, 2003)
Extraordinary Stories - Llinas (Balnearios, 2002 - a lovely hour-long quasi-documentary, but not up with his later epics)
My Joy - Loznitsa (several documentaries over 40 minutes, starting with The Settlement, 2008)
Fish & Cat - Mokri (Ashkan, The Charmed Ring, and Other Stories, 2008)
Les Demons - Lesage (again, various docs, starting with Pourrons-nous vivre ensemble?, 2006)

Alain Resnais apparently made a feature called Ouvert pour cause d'inventaire in 1946.
And if you want to vote for Orson Welles, it looks like you'll have to vote for Too Much Johnson!

Films that are eligible that remain on my bruised and battered shortlist:
Le Silence de la Mer - Melville
Diamonds of the Night - Nemec
Brief Encounters - Muratova (the two features before this were co-directed with her husband)
L'Enfance Nue - Pialat (lots of shorts before this, but nothing too long)
Walkabout - Roeg (Performance doesn't count as it's co-credited)
Boy Meets Girl - Carax
Alice - Svankmajer (twenty films before that, but the longest, Don Juan, is only 30 minutes)

And it feels weird to include experimental filmmakers in this kind of project, since they can often have had long, illustrious careers without making any film of feature length, or have only made one accidentally, but it looks like Stan Brakhage's "first feature" is Dog Man Star and Hollis Frampton's is Zorns Lemma, which both feel like "first features" in some kind of meaningful sense to me.

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Re: The First Features List

#4 Post by knives » Wed Jun 09, 2021 8:12 pm

If I’m understanding the rules correctly, The White Sheik is the eligible Fellini? Also what is the rule with director’s whose first films are lost, I’m thinking Ford and Dwan, or directors with odd crediting like Wilfred Jackson?

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zedz
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Re: The First Features List

#5 Post by zedz » Wed Jun 09, 2021 9:24 pm

For my money, if a director's first feature is lost, then their second (or third, or seventeenth) shouldn't be counted as their first, because it wasn't, and then you're not comparing like with like. If all of Bergman's films before Wild Strawberries had been wiped out, for example, it's not really fair to compare the mature work of a filmmaker who was slow to find his feet with the very first film directed by somebody just starting out.

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Re: The First Features List

#6 Post by willoneill » Thu Jun 10, 2021 8:50 am

I agree with your statement above, Zedz, on lost first features. First is first, whether we can watch it now or not. However I disagree with you on Orson Welles and Too Much Johnson. Welles never completed the post-production on the film, it never had a proper theatrical release, and it wasn't even intended as a standalone film, but rather as a series of film pieces for a theatrical production. Or to put it another way, while Too Much Johnson is film, it is not a film. I think, for the spirit of this exercise, saying Citizen Kane is not Welles' first film is splitting hairs a bit too finely.

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Re: The First Features List

#7 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Jun 10, 2021 10:05 am

The film that popped to my mind is Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage as an example of something this List should really highlight: an artist coming out more or less fully formed. In the Argento, there're some hints of Antonioni in the cinematography that would be dropped later, but everything we think of as identifiably Argento is already present and to the forefront. He had only to elaborate on it in his subsequent films.

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Re: The First Features List

#8 Post by DarkImbecile » Thu Jun 10, 2021 10:18 am

Along those same lines, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Golden Bear-winning debut The Return is representative of his future aesthetic and thematic pursuits, while also being an excellent film in its own rights (as have been all of his features to greater or lesser degrees).

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Maltic
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Re: The First Features List

#9 Post by Maltic » Thu Jun 10, 2021 10:39 am

I was gonna put L'Atalante, but then realised the cut-off Domino set was 40 minutes, not 45 (and Zero for Conduct is 42).

Two films from my 1960s master list which are also too short: The House Is Black and A Charlie Brown Christmas

Is Violent Cop a The Curse of the Cat People situation? I'm not sure the original director received any credit at all.
You made your directoral debut with Violent Cop in 1989. Originally you were only slated to act in it, right?

Yes. What happened was, the original director wanted me to be available for one consecutive month so I could concentrate on the shooting of this film, which wasn't an option for me because of my TV commitment, which consisted of seven or eight weekly shows at that time. I can devote one week for a film's shooting, but the next week I have to devote to TV. So we tried to find a compromise, but couldn't, so the original director dropped out and the project was almost abandoned, until the distributor approached me and suggested that I direct the film according to my own schedule, and I saw no reason to decline their offer.
I had done a quick master list too, but Zedz' work has cut of a few of those already. A relief in each case, really.
Last edited by Maltic on Thu Jun 10, 2021 11:10 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Re: The First Features List

#10 Post by knives » Thu Jun 10, 2021 10:40 am

I think it might be fun to keep track of some oddball situations just to make things easier for everyone so I’ll update this post over time and just cover popular directors who people might have trouble figuring out which films qualifying. If the first feature is lost I’ll highlight it in red.

Gulliver’s Travels by Dave Fleischer
Phantom Tollbooth by Chuck Jones
Straight Shooting by John Ford
Yesterday Girl by Alexander Kluge
Baumwolle by Edgar Reitz
The Avenging Conscience by DW Griffith
Richelieu by Allan Dwan
What’s Up Tiger Lilly by Woody Allen
The Last Bohemian by Michael Curtiz
The Road to Glory by Howard Hawks
Tonight for Sure by Francis Ford Coppola
The Man Called Flintstone by Hanna and Barbera
Habblut by Fritz Lang
Who’s that Knocking at My Door? by Martin Scorsese
Fires Were Started by Humphrey Jennings
Second Hand Love by William Wellman
Alice by Jan Svankmajer
Murder a la Mod by Brian De Palma
La sonate à Kreutzer by Eric Rohmer
The Tune by Bill Plympton
Shoe Palace Pinkus by Ernst Lubitsch
Whirlpool of Fate by Jean Renoir
Nikutaibi by OZU Yasujiro
Zorns Lemma by Hollis Frampton
Sanshiro Sugata by Akita Kurosawa
Yes:9012 Live by Steven Soderbergh
The Strong Man by Frank Capra
A Well Spent Life by Les Blank
The Rouges of Paris by Alice Guy-Blanche
The Border Cavalier by William Wyler
Tarnished Lady by George Cukor
Last edited by knives on Thu Jun 10, 2021 5:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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zedz
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Re: The First Features List

#11 Post by zedz » Thu Jun 10, 2021 4:24 pm

Maltic wrote:
Thu Jun 10, 2021 10:39 am
I was gonna put L'Atalante, but then realised the cut-off Domino set was 40 minutes, not 45 (and Zero for Conduct is 42).

Two films from my 1960s master list which are also too short: The House Is Black and A Charlie Brown Christmas

Is Violent Cop a The Curse of the Cat People situation? I'm not sure the original director received any credit at all.
You made your directoral debut with Violent Cop in 1989. Originally you were only slated to act in it, right?

Yes. What happened was, the original director wanted me to be available for one consecutive month so I could concentrate on the shooting of this film, which wasn't an option for me because of my TV commitment, which consisted of seven or eight weekly shows at that time. I can devote one week for a film's shooting, but the next week I have to devote to TV. So we tried to find a compromise, but couldn't, so the original director dropped out and the project was almost abandoned, until the distributor approached me and suggested that I direct the film according to my own schedule, and I saw no reason to decline their offer.
I think Kitano is the only director credited on-screen, so I assume that film counts for inclusion here on those grounds.

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Re: The First Features List

#12 Post by zedz » Thu Jun 10, 2021 4:28 pm

willoneill wrote:
Thu Jun 10, 2021 8:50 am
I agree with your statement above, Zedz, on lost first features. First is first, whether we can watch it now or not. However I disagree with you on Orson Welles and Too Much Johnson. Welles never completed the post-production on the film, it never had a proper theatrical release, and it wasn't even intended as a standalone film, but rather as a series of film pieces for a theatrical production. Or to put it another way, while Too Much Johnson is film, it is not a film. I think, for the spirit of this exercise, saying Citizen Kane is not Welles' first film is splitting hairs a bit too finely.
I agree, but it depends how much we're deferring to IMDB. Domino holds the magic wand, in any case.

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Re: The First Features List

#13 Post by willoneill » Thu Jun 10, 2021 4:34 pm

We shall await judgement from on high

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zedz
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Re: The First Features List

#14 Post by zedz » Thu Jun 10, 2021 5:18 pm

My first rewatch for this project was:

Fires Were Started (Jennings, 1943) - This is a great example of a first feature by a filmmaker who had honed their craft in short films and ended up making their first feature when they were already a master. It's a better example of pure neo-realism than most actual neo-realist films, in that it's literally an everyday story (that's the harrowing point), enacted exclusively by non-actors who are basically playing themselves. That's remarkable in and of itself, but it's not what makes the film a masterpiece.

It's a work of propaganda, but an extremely subtle one (not as subtle as Jennings' previous S.S. Ionian, but what is?), and even in the parallel montage of the final scenes, where we see what the film's central transaction has been, is understated. The film is much stronger for keeping what is at stake largely abstract until after the battle for it is over: the drama of professionals just doing a difficult job is more than enough without hanging a whole lot of patriotic bunting on it.

This also gets to the another aspect of the film's brilliance: it reveals character through action rather than exposition. We don't need to hear that Fireman A has a sick wife at home and a one-eyed dog with polio, or that Fireman B is only four days from retirement and a life of canal-hopping on his riverboat The Elysian Fields, or that Fireman C has a petrifying terror of rickety chairs that he will have to overcome in Act III in order to save his colleagues. All we really learn about most of the men is how they behave with one another, and that's more than enough to humanize them and for us to care about their fates. There's so much intrinsic character divulged in the celebrated "One man went to mow" sequence that we don't need to have anybody formally introducing us to the other firemen through our patsy surrogate The New Chap.

Jennings' touch is completely assured throughout, and he also manages to effortlessly humanize many of the rapidly-glimpsed supporting crew throughout the film, most of which comprise an army of unflappable women on telephones. In most instances it's just a case of how one woman turns to pass a message to a nearby runner, or how another, after a bomb blast, calmly picks up her dropped phone and keeps going with her job (and when we see her again an hour or so later, she still hasn't fixed her hair, because she's not a starlet, she's a sensible lass with her priorities sorted.)

There's so much life around the margins of this film it's easy to overlook that it's also a phenomenal action movie: more thrilling because it doesn't feel the need to elide the "boring" procedural details (see also A Man Escaped) of actually getting water from one point to another.

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Re: The First Features List

#15 Post by Maltic » Fri Jun 11, 2021 8:57 am

Zorns Lemma, Wavelength and Anticipation of the Night are obviously landmarks, but in a way they don't seem like such a huge leap from the shorter films those directors had done before?

Btw apparently, Michael Snow had a short segment in the 1967 omnibusfilm For Life, Against the War which premiered before Wavelength.

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domino harvey
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Re: The First Features List

#16 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jun 11, 2021 9:56 am

zedz wrote:
Thu Jun 10, 2021 4:28 pm
willoneill wrote:
Thu Jun 10, 2021 8:50 am
I agree with your statement above, Zedz, on lost first features. First is first, whether we can watch it now or not. However I disagree with you on Orson Welles and Too Much Johnson. Welles never completed the post-production on the film, it never had a proper theatrical release, and it wasn't even intended as a standalone film, but rather as a series of film pieces for a theatrical production. Or to put it another way, while Too Much Johnson is film, it is not a film. I think, for the spirit of this exercise, saying Citizen Kane is not Welles' first film is splitting hairs a bit too finely.
I agree, but it depends how much we're deferring to IMDB. Domino holds the magic wand, in any case.
This is a good question. I think with a case like this, we gotta go with the film that was actually released to audiences first, not to mention it would be perverse beyond reason to treat Citizen Kane as anything but the boisterous debut it was received as at the time. So, Citizen Kane gets the Welles vote

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Re: The First Features List

#17 Post by MichaelB » Fri Jun 11, 2021 11:15 am

Is Michael Mann’s first feature The Jericho Mile or Thief? Both were shot on 35mm, both got British cinema releases when brand new, although I’m obviously aware that only one is deemed “a proper film”.

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Re: The First Features List

#18 Post by knives » Fri Jun 11, 2021 11:37 am

I’ve been counting television movies as real movies personally.

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Re: The First Features List

#19 Post by MichaelB » Fri Jun 11, 2021 11:45 am

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s an interesting one, as I don’t imagine anyone would seriously nominate the multi-authored Workers ‘71: Nothing About Us Without Us as his debut feature, but I suspect he’d be entirely in favour of Personnel (1975) taking precedence over his “official” feature debut The Scar (1976).

Not least because it’s a vastly more interesting film, and arguably the most personal (and indeed part-autobiographical) film that he ever made - and he said on more than one occasion that from his perspective on set there was no real difference between theatrical and TV features; schedules were tighter with the latter, but in cash-strapped Poland theatrical feature schedules were pretty tight too.

(He famously disliked The Scar, although it’s not a bad film in its own right - just a very long way from what he’d already proved he was capable of.)

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Re: The First Features List

#20 Post by swo17 » Fri Jun 11, 2021 11:50 am

First Love predates Personnel, but a lot of these feel weird because they're more medium length (40-80 minute range)

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Re: The First Features List

#21 Post by soundchaser » Fri Jun 11, 2021 11:59 am

The Rivette examples zeds cites above feel similarly tricky - they're clearly student films, and I think only Le Quadrille premiered even semi-publicly. (Is this one of those "if you feel a certain way, vote for it" moments?)

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Re: The First Features List

#22 Post by swo17 » Fri Jun 11, 2021 12:07 pm

IMDb says those two films are exactly 40 minutes, which is not greater than 40 minutes. I wonder if it would simplify things if feature were defined as greater than either 75 or 80 minutes (acknowledging that I do not personally have the authority to change the rules). Are there some key debuts between 40-80 minutes that that would be missing out on?

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Re: The First Features List

#23 Post by soundchaser » Fri Jun 11, 2021 12:10 pm

Two pretty key silents off the top of my head: The Kid and 3 Ages

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Re: The First Features List

#24 Post by swo17 » Fri Jun 11, 2021 12:41 pm

Also worth noting: IMDb sucks now at presenting runtimes for films that have different options for reported lengths. They only present one runtime on the main page (I'm not sure how they determine which one) and you have to go to a film's technical specs to see all of the other options. Silents can be especially tricky since the length depends in part on the frame rate. If feature were defined as 80+ minutes, I'm not even sure what Keaton's first one would be.

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Re: The First Features List

#25 Post by knives » Fri Jun 11, 2021 2:10 pm

There’s a few short features I’m planning on voting for. If we’re not gaming the system for lost features we shouldn’t for short features as well.

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