The short film is few directors’ idea of the end of the rainbow. A young Scorsese, for example, probably didn’t gaze from the third floor of his Queens apartment block, dreaming of a ‘five-minuter’ in which a man has a shave. Nor, it seems fair to assume after Inception, did Christopher Nolan’s wildest imaginings have much to do with one bloke in a dark room, trying to squash a bug (by the way you can see both of these films below). They were made because, despite being unmarketable and unprofitable, the short film is the best way a young director can prove his or her genius. And as the following films show; if you’ve got the stuff, then pretty much anything goes…
Six Men Getting Sick, David Lynch, 1966
Lynch made this as an experimenting artist with a desire to “see paintings move”. It features six heads and arms (they are sculptures of Lynch’s own), which appear to grow stomachs and set on fire, before being sick everywhere. It set him back $200, but he had the last laugh when it won a prize, the judge of which was persuaded to fund Lynch’s next project. Did we really need the sirens though?
Age at the time: 20
Further viewing: The Grandmother (1970)
The Big Shave, Martin Scorsese, 1967
The alternative title, Viet ’67, is more helpful as to its meaning. Our shaver’s self-mutilation is a comment on the sacrifice of young soldiers; the incongruously carefree soundtrack on their lack of understanding of what they were getting into. We have Scorsese trademarks: a pop song instead of a score (he practically invented this), a tonal shift to violence and the crucifixion imagery. That same year he finished his first feature, Who’s that Knocking at My Door.
Age at the time: 25
Further viewing: What’s a Nice Girl like You Doing in a Place like This (1963)
Les Mistons (The Mischief Makers), Francois Truffaut, 1957
This was the first effort by the great French director, who until then had been a distinguished film journalist. It contains dozens of cinephile’s references, but is just as easily enjoyed as a simple, wistful elegy of sexual awakening. It took eight weeks of shooting, was unanimously praised and is famed as the first rallying call of the French New Wave. Beautiful, and a pretty big deal too.
Age at the time: 26
Further viewing: Antoine et Colette (1962)
Cigarettes and Coffee, Paul Thomas Anderson, 1993
Paul Anderson (as he was known before he earned the middle name) wrote this script as a nobody and had the cojones to pitch it to Philip Baker Hall. It’s the prototype to his debut, Sydney, which is about trying to beat the Nevada casinos; and already recognisable are his ultra-human dialogue scenes and obsessions with fate and chance. PTA has been gambling – and winning gloriously – ever since.
Age at the time: 22
Further viewing: The Dirk Diggler Story (1988)
Where’s the Money, Ronnie? Shane Meadows, 1995
Yeah, the acting is a bit crap (the director himself, who plays Ronnie, is probably the best of the lot) but it’s the mixture of looming violence and down-to-earth humour that makes this a Meadows film. Basically a pastiche of Kurasawa’s Rashomon, with a dash of Reservoir Dogs thrown in, Meadows turns the lack of a decent dolly into a stylistic motif. It earned him his first feature, Smalltime.
Age at the time: 23
Further viewing: The Stairwell (2005) – 40 seconds and shot on his mobile!
Doodlebug, Christopher Nolan, 1997
An exploration of schizophrenia, set in a flat whose budget appears to match that of the filming/editing equipment. Nevertheless, it is atmospheric and, like ‘The Big Shave’, manages to imply something much greater than what we actually see. Proof that Nolan doesn’t need $200m to make us question our own eyes.
Age at the time: 27
Further viewing: Tarantella (1989)
Lick the Star, Sofia Coppola, 1998
This is the only short by Francis Ford’s daughter, who learned the family trade through music videos and by helping her dad. Things moved fast: it would be just one year before her full-length debut, The Virgin Suicides, which was followed by Lost in Translation – up to now her opus, and a film which also deals in isolation. Keep an eye out for the Peter Bogdanovic cameo.
Age at the time: 27
Further viewing: Errr… the Madonna video ‘Deeper and Deeper’ (1992)