We're always fascinated by the early projects of famous directors, which is why this article from Slate caught our eye. The writer highlights several of George Lucas' art house film projects, which the young director began creating while studying film at USC in the 1960s. They've been floating around online for a while, but with the filmmaker recently stating that he wants to break free from blockbuster mode and return to creating more personal movies it seems like as good a time as any to revisit some of his earliest gems.
The first film the Star Wars director created was a one minute-long student short called Look At Life. The project is one of several 16mm cinéma vérité studies Lucas created at university for an animation course. It has an apocalyptic slant and uses photos of the 1960's cultural landscape — like shots of Ku Klux Klan members and war-torn soldiers — to emphasize a societal anxiety.
Slate's article focuses on Lucas' quasi-documentary film 6-18-67 (the young director did have a penchant for numbered names, didn't he?), which was his introduction to Hollywood filmmaking — or, basically a kind of reality check. After winning a scholarship from Columbia Pictures, Lucas was tasked with shooting a making-of documentary short for western MacKenna's Gold starring Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif and Telly Savalas. The "bloated," and "lumbering, elephantine" epic was filming in the deserts of Arizona, and Lucas felt "alienated" from the project — prompting him to create a quiet, visual poem about nature, featuring the production (barely) far-off in the distance. Was this the beginning of his well-known contempt for the studio system?
Lucas' most famous short Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB transforms the parking garages at Los Angeles International Airport into a dystopian landscape where a man known only has THX 1138 4EB is running to escape an oppressive society. The 15-minute short was created at USC and won first prize at the National Student Film Festival in 1968. It was also the basis for Lucas' impressive, sci-fi feature debut THX 1138 starring Robert Duvall.
You can check out more shorts on Slate's website, where Lucas' early experiments show polished promise, inventive imagination, and the foundations of some of his most famous later works. Let us know your favorites below.