Stephen Spielberg thought that the idea behind this book was "neat". He didn't have time to make a contribution, but then he's a very busy man. Thankfully, even without the participation of the director of Duel
, Stephen Lowenstein managed to assemble an impressive roster of film-makers happy to discuss their earliest efforts. Lowenstein notes that he witnessed in every interview a real enthusiasm for the subject, saying that "my hunch was that the directors enjoyed talking about films that they weren't trying to sell
". The interviews manage to capture the combination of freedom and fear which seems to characterise a first film: Gary Oldman speaks for many of the contributors when he describes the making of Nil By Mouth
as "like saving things from a burning building".
Each of the directors interviewed attracted widespread acclaim for their debut film, and would never again come to a project with so little baggage. Lowenstein has chosen his subjects carefully, providing a survey of a refreshingly wide range of experiences. Pedro Almodovar attended film school and made short films before writing Pepi, Luci, Bom while working for a telephone company; the Coen brothers had never been on a film set before they began shooting Blood Simple; Oliver Stone came to directing relatively late, writing a number of hits including Midnight Express before he shot Salvador at the age of 40.
It is true that My First Movie covers some ground which has been dealt with in earlier interviews, often at the time of release of the films in question--for example, we read once again of Kevin Smith financing Clerks with credit cards. However, the book provides far more depth than magazine interviews would allow, and gathers in one place a great deal of material interesting to a wide cross-section of readers, about directors as diverse as Ken Loach, Ang Lee and Steve Buscemi. Lowenstein has a knack for asking interesting questions and eliciting fascinating responses, revealing a great deal about not only the stories behind these first films, but also the personalities of their makers. --John Oates