Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Prometheus, the Apple Macintosh 1984 Super Bowl ad, the upcoming Biblically-based (and Biblically-sized) Exodus: if you want a thoroughly through-and-through vision, executed at full scale and tinted with more than a touch of dystopian grimness, you go to Ridley Scott. But no director commences his career making pictures like these; most of them have to begin in humbler places, pulling together whatever grant money, film-school resources, and helpful acquaintances they can to realize, and in the process often compromise, their long-incubated cinematic dreams. So it went with Scott himself, who made the short film above, 1965's Boy and Bicycle, while a student at London's Royal College of Art. But even this comparatively tiny project, with its rich 16-millimeter images, adept camera movement, and utterly hopeless setting, shows signs of what sort of filmmaker the twentysomething Scott would become a decade or two later.
Though he received his photographic education in London, Scott took his camera out for the Boy and Bicycle shoot to West Hartlepool, where he'd attended art school several years earlier. That bit of the soon-to-be-deindustrialized north of England provided, especially in the British Steel North Works cooling tower and blast furnace, just the sort of background we'd expect to see in the mature director's work. And through this bleak landscape (which reminds me of nothing so much as the inhospitable Osaka he would portray more than twenty years later in Black Rain) we have the titular boy on the titular bicycle, played by — classic first-time filmmaker's strategy — the director's younger brother. In this case, that brother would grow up to become Tony Scott, a celebrated if aesthetically polarizing director (Top Gun, True Romance, Domino) in his own right. Not one to waste a resonant image, Ridley Scott would a decade later revisit Boy and Bicycle in the beloved advertisement for Hovis bread just above.
Other early short films by great directors can be found below, and in our collection of 635 Free Movies Online.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, literature, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Facebook page.