Films by artists?
March 26, 2014 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Apologies in advance for what may be a poorly constructed question, but: I'm looking for films (preferably narrative feature films) made by artists who first established themselves in a medium other than film. More details inside.

The examples that got me started down this path are Cindy Sherman's Office Killer and Robert Longo's Johnny Mnemonic, and William Klein's film work in France.

I'll still appreciate the suggestions, but I'm not necessarily looking for non-narrative films (like William S. Burroughs' work with Antony Balch) or visual artists who are primarily known for their film work (like David Lynch).
posted by Merzbau to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Julian Schnabel and Tom Ford come to mind.
posted by dhammond at 4:41 PM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: Julian Schnabel, Before Night Falls and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Laurel Nakadate, Stay the Same Never Change and The Wolf Knife
posted by decathexis at 4:41 PM on March 26, 2014

Jean Cocteau was already famous as a painter when he directed "Orphée".

Which is a hauntingly beautiful movie. If you ever have a chance to see it, do so!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:47 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Matthew Barney

Jean Cocteau

Michelangelo Frammartino

Maya Deren

just from the top of my head,
posted by frequently at 4:52 PM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: Graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi has made a few films. Also graphic novelist Joann Sfar.
posted by Erasmouse at 4:55 PM on March 26, 2014

Rob Thomas was a writer who moved into television and recently directed the Veronica Mars movie. He's probably best known for that now, but Wikipedia still calls him a writer, so...
posted by papayaninja at 4:59 PM on March 26, 2014

Obvious, but Andy Warhol made a ton of films, though most were more art films. Chelsea Girls is sort of narrative, and was a relatively widely distributed feature.
posted by SoftRain at 5:02 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks! Keep them coming- this is kind of just idle drunken curiosity on my part but I want to see what I can learn about how visual styles and strategies learned in other media can transfer to film directing.

These are all great suggestions; the ones I've marked "best answer" are those mentioning people I'm not familiar with and need to look up later.
posted by Merzbau at 5:05 PM on March 26, 2014

Response by poster: Erasmouse, your mention of Satrapi and Sfar reminded me that Enki Bilal has directed an adaptation of his own Nikopol trilogy, Immortal.
posted by Merzbau at 5:06 PM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: Le Mystere Picasso, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot AND it's free to watch
posted by lois1950 at 5:39 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bruce Weber was a well-known fashion photographer when he made the documentary about Chet Baker Let's Get Lost. I was really into his photography and didn't know much about Baker but it was cool to see how Weber's odd vision translated into moving pictures.
posted by jessamyn at 5:50 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have a look around for all things obscure and avant-garde.
posted by doreur at 5:58 PM on March 26, 2014

Steve McQueen, director of 12 years a Slave, first came to note as a producer of non-narrative art films rather than the narrative films he has now come to be much more well known for internationally. The sort of stuff that is in video installations in galleries rather than cinemas. He was also a war artist in Iraq and produced non-film art as a result.
posted by biffa at 6:01 PM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Novelist Clive Barker directed the original Hellraiser, as well as Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions, all of which I think he had a hand in writing, as well.

Larry Clark was a photographer before directing Kids.

Woody Allen was a writer and stand-up comedian before he made films.

Off the top of my head, artists as diverse as Sergei Eisenstein, Sam Mendes, Kenneth Branagh, and Julie Taymor all directed theater before they directed film. There are probably hundreds of others who fit that particular bill.

Orson Welles made radio plays, of course. So did Dziga Vertov.

Jerry Lewis was a pantomime artist before eventually directing films.

Robert Altman made television shows.

Frank Miller, best known as a graphic novelist, directed The Spirit. Tim Burton, Guillermo del Toro, and Terry Gilliam were all cartoonists, then animators, then live-action directors.

I'd suspect, in fact, that MOST filmmakers started out in another art form before moving over to film!
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:34 PM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: Hans Richter was an Expressionist and Dadaist painter in Germany before turning to film, producing avant-garde work in the 1920s, commercial work and political propaganda in the 1930s, and surrealist works in the 1940s-50s. Rhythmus 21 is one of the first abstract films ever made. Ghosts Before Breakfast is a surrealist-tinged romp that put him on the wrong side of the Nazis. Dreams That Money Can Buy was made in collaboration with Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Darius Milhaud and Fernand Léger.

If you're anywhere near Berlin, a Richter retrospective is opening this weekend at the Gropius-Bau (disclosure: I worked on the exhibition in Los Angeles, and edited the catalogue and memoir that accompanied the show).
posted by scody at 7:02 PM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Something of a marginal case, but Miranda July was a performance artist before making narrative film. I see Eisenstein mentioned above. Derek Jarman was trained as a painter and originally worked as a set designer for Ken Russell. Gordon Parks was a WPA and Life Magazine photographer before he made Shaft. And they weren't good directors, but Michael Crichton, Stephen King, and Norman Mailer (oh, Norman Mailer) all made commercially-released movies.
posted by snarkout at 7:13 PM on March 26, 2014

I don't know that he was established, but I believe Peter Greenaway was a painter before he began feature making films.
posted by baseballpajamas at 7:19 PM on March 26, 2014

Stanley Kubrick was a photographer for Look magazine before he started making films.
posted by Tom-B at 7:36 PM on March 26, 2014

Runaway by Kanye West. Not feature-length, but the full version runs about 35 minutes.
posted by c95008 at 10:38 PM on March 26, 2014

South Korean Lee Chang-dong was a novelist before turning to film. Secret Sunshine is my favorite of the movies of his I've seen so far. I've linked to a 3 minute interview with the director because the US-market trailer gives too much away. It's not an easy movie to watch but it is very satisfying, and the whole movie is on youtube.

I suspect there are more in China and other parts of East Asia who aren't coming to mind right away. If you think about manga and anime that opens another frontier as well. I recommend Lee whenever I can because his work features complex female characters not as substitutes for men.

Two from Japan:

Hitoshi Matsumoto, half of the manzai comedy duo known as Downtown, directed and starred in the weird 2007 "Big Man Japan." It was a great idea that didn't work out as well as it could have.

Takeshi Kitano is a major tv personality who's hosted a variety show that's been on for decades. He's the emcee of a panel of d-list celebrities talking about inane topics. It's kind of like Hollywood Squares from the 1970s. He shot to international fame with "Hanabi" (Fireworks) in 1997 and a bunch of crime movies since then.

I'll also throw out the movies by South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker and R. Kelly's rap opera "Trapped in the Closet."
posted by vincele at 11:22 PM on March 26, 2014

Another photographer-turned-director: Sam Taylor-Johnson (previously Sam Taylor-Wood), who directed Nowhere Boy, and the forthcoming screen adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey.
posted by misteraitch at 2:25 AM on March 27, 2014

Johnny Mnemonic, the film adaptation of William Gibson's short story, was directed by Robert Longo, who is one of the major art world figures of the 1980s. (Sorry, just noticed you caught that one.)

Peter Greenaway trained as a painter, and worked as a painter and experimental filmmaker for over a decade before progressing to feature-length works in the 1980s. Currently he alternates between feature films and multimedia art installations, many of which have callbacks to previous films he's made.
posted by ardgedee at 4:08 AM on March 27, 2014

No one has mentioned Un Chien Andalou.
posted by mr vino at 5:45 AM on March 27, 2014

Jean Renoir, director and actor, was a ceramic artist before trying his hand at film.
posted by Gungho at 7:12 AM on March 27, 2014

Love is a film produced by Tom Delonge (previously of Blink 182 and Boxcar Racer) along with his band Angels & Airwaves.
posted by drewski at 7:38 AM on March 27, 2014

Anton Corbijn the photographer made Control, the biopic about Joy Division.
posted by merocet at 8:53 AM on March 27, 2014

They were mentioned above but worth pointing out Sam Taylor-Wood was nominated for the Turner Prize, the UK's major visual art prize, in 1998 and Steve McQueen won the next year.
posted by ninebelow at 8:07 AM on March 28, 2014

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