Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Spielberg Blogathon: Day 1

Amblin' (1968): What Filmmaking Is All About

by Adam Zanzie

Amblin’ is particularly noteworthy in Steven Spielberg’s career as the first installment in his “road movie trilogy”, a trilogy that would continue with Duel (1971) and conclude with The Sugarland Express (1974). When he couldn’t get the aesthetic he was looking for within the walls of studio backlots, Spielberg followed Dennis Hopper’s example—and began turning to inspiration on U.S. highways.

Catch Me if You Can

by J.D.

Ultimately, all Frank wants is for things to be the way they were when he was younger: his parents still married and living in a nice home. He thinks that by accumulating wealth and projecting a successful image, he can save his father from financial ruin and impress his mother enough so that she’ll take back Frank, Sr. But life doesn’t always work out that way and no matter how many glamorous professions he impersonates or fake checks he writes, is going to make things right. It is this sober reality that makes Catch Me If You Can more than just an entertaining caper film. In some respects, this is a coming-of-age film as we see Frank go from an ambitious teenager to a disillusioned adult. This is also a coming-of-age film for DiCaprio that saw him move on from youthful characters in flights of fancy-type films like Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Titanic, to working with prestige directors like Spielberg on more mature fare that dealt with weighty themes. It is a transition he has made successfully as evident with award-winning films like The Departed (2006) and critically-acclaimed blockbusters like Inception (2010).

Encountering Spielberg: A Steven Spielberg Profile (Part 1)

by Trevor Hogg

Steven Spielberg is a strong believer in being proactive. “Studios aren’t buying qualities like eagerness and enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. They want material evidence that you’re a moviemaker who’s going to turn a profit. They want to see and feel how good you are before they’re going to give you $300,000 to make a movie. I began by making 8 and 16mm films, some for $15 a piece and some for $200. You can’t excuse yourself by saying, ‘Well, I can’t raise the money to make the short film to get into the front door and show my work.’”

Jaws Memories (1975)

by Hokahey

Throughout the first half of the film, Spielberg continues the pattern of revealing the shark sparingly. He builds suspense without showing the shark, but the shark’s power and menace are clearly established. The beach sequence is a superb mixture of gimmicks: the fat woman walking into the water; the dog that goes missing; old Harry gliding through the water with his bathing cap; the sudden squeal as a guy raises his girlfriend on his shoulders – and all of this seen through Chief Brody’s eyes, his vision interrupted by passing vacationers. It’s all a tease, and Spielberg is a master of the visual tease.

Catch Me if You Can: Two Sides of the Same Coin

by Tom Hyland

In one of the most revealing moments of the film, Hanratty tells Abagnale over the phone that he (Abagnale) called because he had no one else to talk to on Christmas Eve. Hanratty laughs at this and is proud of this sudden discovery, but for Abagnale, this is an affirmation of his loneliness and it scares the wits out of him. Spielberg gives us a reaction shot of a clearly dazed Abagnale that is beautifully composed, with half of his face covering the top of the frame with the phone (out-of-focus) in the bottom half. John Williams' mournful cue, performed here as a saxophone solo, perfectly communicates Abagnale's isolation; this is a turning point for the criminal, who suddenly realizes how his life is not presenting the true freedom he so greatly desires.

Empire of the Sun

by Jake Cole

Empire of the Sun is a greater indicator of Steven Spielberg's capacity to show mankind's darker side than Schindler's List. The latter is a film about a good man among oppressors, a diamond in the rough who stands up for what is right in the midst of unspeakable horror. Empire of the Sun, however, is a film about how good people can turn on each other in an instant, about the corrupt among the downtrodden. Where Schindler's List (thankfully) did not attempt to assign motivations for the German population's complicity in the Holocaust, this effort says more about the human condition precisely because the Japanese internment of prisoners of war doesn't carry the same weight in the public consciousness as the Holocaust.

A.I. - Do Androids Dream of Love?

by Ratnakar Sadasyula

A.I.:Artificial Intelligence, was the collaboration of two men, who have been the Ying and the Yang, as far as directorial and narrative styles are concerned, Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick. The actual basis of the movie was a short story by Brian Adliss “Super-Toys last All Summer Long”, and Kubrick tried to bring it to screen, but languished due to a number of reasons, before he handed the story over to Spielberg. Close friends in real life, their directorial styles were as different as chalk and cheese, Kubrick’s dark, dystopian, nihilistic outlook, contrasted sharply with Spielberg’s more optimistic, feel good, humanist approach. A.I. was the most ambitious experiment ever in cinema history, as it attempted to fuse Yin and Yang on the screen. Typically doing a fusion attempt is a bit of Russian Roulette combined with some expert tight rope walking, you have to maintain the balance between the differing styles, ensuring that the worst practices of both don’t end up mixing with each other, and end of the day, you could end up delivering either a masterpiece or a super dud.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: The Return of Harrison Ford

by Tony Dayoub

Rooted in the B-movies of the fifties, the way the earlier ones were in the thirties, the film's plot is not original, but there are plenty of surprises and treats along the way. Spalko is a formidable adversary, and probably Indy's best since Raiders. Karen Allen's return as Marion, gives the film some of the heart that had been missing in the last two films. For fans of the Young Indy TV show who hoped that the series would not be brushed under the carpet, don't worry, it's not. Aside from the rather oblique references to the show in Indy's references to his exploits as an OSS spy in WWII (he had also been a spy in WWI in the TV series), there is a more direct reference to one of the episodic adventures midway through the movie. And don't ask me why, but I was impressed by the minimal supporting part that Igor Jijikine plays as Spalko's henchman, Dovchenko. Maybe it's his resemblance to Lawrence Montaigne (The Great Escape) on steroids.

A Look Back at the Summer of Jaws

by John Greco

So what about the film itself? Does it still hold up? It sure does. Sure it was made for just for pure entertainment, then again so was “Psycho,” (Spielberg and “Jaws” did for the ocean what Hitchcock and “Psycho” did for the shower) and in many ways it is just an old fashion monster film but Spielberg along with editor Verna Fields created a tense nail biter of a film that keeps your heart pounding throughout. Spielberg and crew created characters you cared about, characters much more likable than they are in Benchley’s novel, and are played to perfection by the three male leads. There is Quint the shark hunter for hire filled to the brim with macho bravado continuously showing that he is the man, the only man who can go head to head with the shark. Hooper the marine biologist and Brodie, the Chief of Police who recently left the New York City Police Department for what he thought would be a cushier job term as the Police Chief of a small Long Island tourist town.


by Ilias Dimopoulos

To be honest, however, Munich is a film that transforms each time different eyes set upon it. It can be an ode to humanity lost but it can also be a film that will confound you with its simplistic negation of history. Creating a troubled character/vehicle for a nation’s (supposed) quest for truth and divinely inspired righteousness does not necessarily mean justification for vindictiveness and crimes against humanity. Simultaneously, allowing much more than a “face” to the enemy (arguably, Palestinians in the film are more likeable) won’t get you through the night of their kamikaze tactics. (Similarly to Schindler’s List, for the most part, this is a film distinctly about individuals, not their historical environment.)

To Be Beloved is All I Need: A.I. Artificial Intelligence

by Noel Tanti

Many a monster is borne out of grief. When something bad hits us, like the death of a loved one, our natural reaction is to wallow in the murky waters of remembrance. This is where the first four stages of the Kübler-Ross model occur, as we strive to make sense and come to terms with the situation. We do not acknowledge the loss, we try to bring back to life that person who still means the world to us, and we try to do so by revisiting each and every memory we have, a mad kaleidoscopic rush of random images that make no sense except in the grief that we are experiencing. But we cannot alter the past: we can just look at it from afar and, hopefully, in time, realise that it’s where we’re going that matters and not where we’ve been.

Jaws 35th Anniversary: She was the First

by Tom Shone

What is most striking about ”Jawsmania” today, however, is what a grass-roots operation it was, driven not by the studio but by private profiteers, pirates or just entrepreneurs with a single goofy idea. A Jaws discotheque opened in the Hamptons, complete with with a wooden fake shark; a Georgia fisherman started selling jawbones for $50; a New York ice-cream stand renamed its staple flavours sharklate, finilla and jawberry; a Silver Spring speciality dealer began selling strap-on styrofoam shark fins, for anyone who wanted to start their own scare in the privacy of their own beach. Meanwhile, up and down the coast towns of America, hotels reported a spate of cancelled bookings, as people caught wind of the sudden rise in reported shark attacks: which is to say, commercial interests lost actual money because of the release of Jaws. So much for synergy. In fact, the official Universal merchandising was minimal — t-shirts, beach towels, posters — and when Spielberg proposed a chocolate shark, he was turned down — the first and last time in the career of Steven Spielberg that he would be refused a merchandising opportunity by a studio.

"I Can Bring Everyone Back...": Spielberg's Fantasies of Reversal

by Bilge Ebiri

So, what does this reveal about Spielberg? In a way, it’s one of the keys to his success: Bringing our loved ones back, reversing great tragedies, etc…that’s probably the ultimate wish fulfillment. But in the way that he’s complicated it over the years, it shows a vision that has grown more complex and wise. Indeed, one could argue that this is why some of his later pop movies, like the fourth Indiana Jones movie, or (I’d argue) War of the Worlds, haven’t quite had the youthful verve of his earlier works: He can’t quite dream like a child again. His dreams are those of a man who finally understands that time marches relentlessly on.

The Spielberg Blogathon: Indy Edition

by Odienator, Matt Zoller Seitz, and Keith Uhlich

Odienator on Raiders of the Lost Ark:

Enough details and ramblings. Why Raiders remains my favorite time at the movies is simply this: It is damn exciting, technically crafted by Lucas, Kasdan, Spielberg, editor Michael Kahn (who won an Oscar for this) and composer John Williams into a well-oiled machine with well-timed shocks, how-did-he-do-that escapes and gory mayhem. Lucas may have re-edited so that Han Solo doesn't shoot first, but Spielberg still allows Jones to commit the overly ruthless execution of the Nazi driving the Mercedes Benz whose ornament Indy thrillingly hangs onto in (for me) the iconic shot of the film.

Matt Zoller Seitz on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has the series' simplest plot, most annoying love interest, most casually racist and imperialist attitudes and most grotesque imagery (Doom and its summer-of-'84 blockbuster cousin, the Spielberg-produced Gremlins, sparked the creation of a new MPAA rating, PG-13). At the same time, though, it's the most viscerally intense entry in the series and the most wide-ranging in its moods, spotlighting the imaginations of Spielberg and his co-producer, George Lucas, at their most freewheeling. It's a blast from the id—like Close Encounters, 1941, E.T. and A.I, a rare instance of the director appearing to construct images and situations for his own private reasons, rather than keeping his eyes and ears attuned for signs of viewer discontent.

Keith Uhlich on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

Now only twilight and sunset. Illumination fades; the self annihilates in silhouette. And all (father, son, and spirit) is one.

Keith Uhlich (again) on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

Tempting to call Crystal Skull Spielberg's own Youth Without Youth (a perfect subtitle for this enterprise in more ways than one). It shares with Francis Ford Coppola's unjustly maligned time-traversing romance an elder man's world-weary sensibilities ("We're at the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away," says Indy's academe confidante Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent), paying homage to the story-deceased Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery)) as well as a penchant for refracting era-specific fears and proclivities through the prism of pulp fiction. Yet this Indiana Jones distinguishes itself, too, as the first film in the series to take place during a time of which Spielberg has actual recall. No longer solely couched in a movie-geek's distanced obsession with old-time serials, Crystal Skull is a simultaneously multifaceted ode to an artist's formative years, to an imagination stoked as much by the possibilities of destruction as by the worlds out of sight.

Spielberg's 9/11

by Ryan Kelly

When I saw War of the Worlds when it was released in the summer of 2005, my opinion was pretty much in line with that of many other people - that it was a failure with some effective moments, that Spielberg's sappiness ruined the ending, and so on. When I saw Munich later that year I was forced to reconsider a film I had dismissed, because Munich made me stop viewing War of the Worlds as a piece of summer entertainment and made me think of it as a serious consideration of 9/11, as Munich most certainly is. Now I think of War of the Worlds as the dream and Munich as the reality, like when you wake up after a nightmare and begin to comprehend the imagery and dream logic; that which seemed irrational or nonsensical while you slept suddenly makes perfect sense.

More will be uploaded over the coming days. Thanks to everybody out there who helped make the first day of the Spielberg Blogathon a resounding success.

Oh... and Happy 64th Birthday to the man himself!

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