Welcome to the eighth edition of Famous Director’s First Theatrical Releases. Here we are exploring the first films of political and war filmmaker Oliver Stone, Japanese epic filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, and prolific film director Ridley Scott. These directors have made their mark on filmmaking, and they all had to start somewhere. Here are their first theatrical movies.
Oliver Stone is famous for such movies as a trio of films about the Vietnam War, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Heaven and Earth, a trio of films about US presidents, JFK, Nixon, W, as well as Wall Street, The Doors and Natural Born Killers. In 1974, Oliver Stone was a young filmmaker with only a short film, Last Year in Viet Nam, under his belt, and Stone made his first movie, a Horror Film titled Seizure. Seizure was filmed in a lakeside house in Québec, with the entire cast and crew also staying in the house as well. Seizure follows Horror Writer Edmund Blackstone (Jonathan Frid) who has recurring nightmares that come to life: his visions of three menacing people (The Queen of Evil, a dwarf named Spider, a scar-faced strong man named Jackal) who one by one kill everyone he holds dear. Both the actress who played the Queen of Evil, Martine Beswick and Stone admitted the production was difficult. The movie was released for a limited run in 1974 in New York City.
Akira Kurosawa, the acclaimed epic Japanese filmmaker, made such well-regarded films as Rashomon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Kagemusha, and Ran. In the early 1940s, Kurosawa was a successful second unit director on for five years in films such as Uma and Roppa’s Honeymoon. He also had two of his film scripts printed, one of which won the Education Minister’s Prize. Kurosawa asked to buy the rights to a new Tomita Tsuneo novel, called Sanshiro Sugata (American Title: Judo Saga) and direct the film based on the novel. He was deliberately making a period piece in a time when Japan was at war (1942-1943). Sanshiro Sugata follows a young willful man named Sanshiro who travels into a major Japanese city in order to learn Jujitsu. But once there, he sees another martial art, Judo, and begs a Judo master to learn to master Judo, who also teaches him how to balance strength and control. The movie features many of Kurosawa’s trademarks, including camera wipes, weather which reflects the mood of the characters and changing camera speeds, depending on the intensity of the scene. It was released on March 25, 1943. Unfortunately, the Japanese government cut 17 minutes from the movie to comply with “Japan’s wartime entertainment policies,” and the 97-minute director’s cut has never been found (though the complete script exists).
Ridley Scott has a varied and prolific filmmaking career, having directed such movies as Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, and most recently, the acclaimed movie The Martian. In the 1970s, Ridley Scott and his brother Tony were very successful commercial directors, and Ridley had also directed episodes for the BBC. Ridley Scott’s first film was called The Duellists and filmed in and around Sarlat-la-Caneda in a region of France called Dordogne. Scott tried to emulate Stanley Kubrick’s lush cinematography from Barry Lyndon. The Duellists was a historical drama set in the early 1800s during the Napoleonic wars. The Duellists is the story of two Hussar officers, D’Hubert and Feraud. D’Hubert is sent to arrest Feraud for dueling the city’s mayor, but the way in which D’Hubert arrests Ferauld (in the house of a prominent lady, which Feraud considered an insult), causes Ferauld to challenge D’Hubert to a duel... The movie was praised for its historical accuracy, with its military costumes and conduct during the Napoleonic era. The Duellists went on to win best debut film at the Cannes Film Festival. It was released on August 31, 1977 in France.
Oliver Stone, like many other directors profiled on this list, had a difficult time directing his first movie. Nevertheless, he refused to give up, and went on to direct some of the most critically acclaimed war and political movies in the 1980s and 1990s. Kurosawa and Scott, who had honed their skill as filmmakers before their debuts as directors, showed off their talent once their first film was finally released. Check out these first theatrical films from these acclaimed directors.