Welcome to the fifteenth edition of Famous Director’s First Theatrical Releases. Today we are looking at the varied talents of Terry Gilliam, Rob Reiner, and Ava DuVernay. Let’s check out the first of many movies of these incredible directors.
Terry Gilliam is known for his bizarre and surreal films, such as his “imagination” through “the ages of man” trilogy, Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and then his “Americana” trilogy, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He is also well known for trying to make an adaptation of Don Quixote for many years, one version of which was famously canceled after a week of filming. A member of the comedy team Monty Python, Gilliam had co-starred in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a British sketch Television show starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin). Gilliam had already directed two short films, Storytime, and Miracle of Flight. Terry Gilliam first theatrical movie turns out to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which he co-directed with Terry Jones. The movie was thought up between the third and fourth seasons (or series, as they are called in the UK) of Flying Circus. The Python’s second movie, this was the first to feature completely original material. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed on location in Scotland, primarily Doune Castle, Glen Coe, and Stalker Castle. The movie (with what little plot there is) details King Arthur and his knight’s quest for the Holy Grail, encountering a series of hilarious obstacles. All of the Python actors played multiple roles in the film, in addition to the main roles of Arthur (Chapman), his squire (Gilliam) and his knights. The movie was produced for a budget of $400,000 and made $5 million at the time of release (April 3, 1975, in the UK). Today, the Gilliam and Jones directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains one of the most well-known Monty Python productions.
Rob Reiner’s well known directorial efforts include Stand by Me When Harry Met Sally…, The Princess Bride, and A Few Good Men. He is also well known as the son Michael “Meathead” on the comedy sitcom All in the Family. But Reiner’s first theatrical movie is the hard rock/heavy metal mockumentary called This is Spinal Tap, about the fictional band on tour. Reiner starred in the movie as a fictional version of himself, Marty Di Bergi. Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer David Kaff played Spinal Tap Band members David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, Derek Smalls, and Viv Savage respectively. Much of the dialogue between the three main performers and “Di Bergi” was improvised, so all of them were credited as writers for the movie. This is Spinal Tap follows the band as they go on a disastrous tour, bogged down by low ticket sales, their newest album cover deemed sexist, an ordered prop which was supposed to 18 feet only being 18 inches. Also included is the famous scene of Tufnel showing Di Bergi that the amps “Go to eleven.” This is Spinal Tap has had a budget of $2 million and was released March 2, 1984. While grossing only $4.7 million in the initial release, it became a cult hit, and many musicians credited the mockumentary for being not that different from real life on tour. This is Spinal Tap remains one of the favorites in Reiner’s diverse lineup.
Ava DuVernay was announced to be the director of A Wrinkle in Time, due to be released on March 9, 2018, her first big-budget movie ($103 million). Other notable hits by DuVernay include Middle of Nowhere, Selma and the documentary 13th. Because DuVernay’s first movie is the documentary This is the Life, made in 2008 and her first fictional movie is I Will Follow, made in 2011, and since both could be considered her first film, both will be covered here. This is the Life was made first intentionally because documentaries typically have a smaller budget than narrative films, and DuVernay could learn film-making though production of the film. This is the Life follows the alternative hip hop movement in the 1990s at the influential Good Life Café in LA, a health food market which held open mic nights. The movie premiered on February 9th, 2008 at the Pan-African Film Festival and in the US on March 10, 2009. DuVernay’s first fictional film, I Will Follow, was shot in 15 days in Topanga Canyon, California. I Will Follow is about Maye (Sali Richarson-Whitfield), a successful artist who takes a day off to deal with her Aunt’s death, and meets the twelve people in her life (her mother and ex, for example), who help her deal with her loss. I Will Follow was released September 18, 2010, at the Urbanworld Film Festival and March 11, 2011, in the US. The African American Film Critics Association awarded the movie Best Screenplay, also written by Ava DuVernay. DuVernay’s work on both movies showcased her talents as a filmmaker and director.
Gilliam, Reiner, and DuVernay each enjoyed success with their first movies. Gilliam’s and Reiner’s first movies have only grown in popularity today, while DuVernay’s emerging talent is showcased in both her documentary and her fictional film. Check out these first theatrical movies of these talented directors.