Spielberg: The Man, the Movies, the Mythology

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  1. Spielberg: The Man, the Movies, the Mythology by Frank Sanello
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But there are no depictions of any husky German grunt spitting on the necklace.

Spielberg: The Man, the Movies, the Mythology by Frank Sanello

There is no sense that a "holocaust" is transpiring a few thousand miles eastward in Poland. Why Spielberg didn't hit this angle harder is anyone's guess. It's my hunch he intuits how weary American audiences are of "holocaust" themes. He chose to advance his agenda by less transparent means. One of these is the suggestion that the Wehrmacht --mostly conscripts, if we recall our history--are practically war criminals just for fighting the Americans.

Spielberg telegraphs an unambiguous message about the necessity of shooting unarmed German POWs and how foolish it is to spare them the Jewish soldier eventually dies as a result of his captain having failed to authorize the murder of a German POW. One of the most compelling figures in the film is Jackson, the Sgt. York character who's a rabid German-hater. Is Spielberg mocking the presumed ignorance of the servants of the New World Order?

German being the language of philosophy and rocketry, among other stellar Teutonic achievements, Spielberg would seem to be both applauding and mocking the anti-German bigotry of this "hick," who mutters a psalm every time he blasts any German who gets in his sniper rifle's sights. They fight with basic soldierly resolve only as long as they have the advantage--a fortified pill box, a machine gun nest or a Tiger tank. But as soon as the tide turns, the German soldiers toss their arms up in surrender and jabber in hysterical fear and pleading.

They fight with the same wooden stupidity as did the extras on the set of the old s TV series "Combat"--whenever they're in American sights they get hit and drop, whereas, once off the beach, Americans can run in front of a legion of German rifles and dodge bullets with miraculous invulnerability. There is just one swastika visible in the film a graffito painted on the Atlantic Wall.

Even an SS tank commander appears sans monocle and armband.

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Spielberg obviously sought to avoid hyperbole and schlock. He makes his anti-German point with a much lighter touch, but he makes it all the better by this near-subliminal technique. It's simple, really, an old trick from the propaganda manual: he endears us to the American troops by showing them griping and complaining, joking, sobbing and gambling. We share their life stories and their jests. We "bond" with them.

They are not robots. They gripe about "Fubar"--an acronym for an expletive for U. The Germans are mere ciphers, however. Never does Spielberg take us to their campfire to hear their songs and stories. We almost never glimpse their humanity. No German words are ever translated into sub-titles. German becomes an unintelligible clamor--a "pig Latin.

The closest Spielberg comes to humanizing the German troops is in a brief standoff between an American and a German, when they both run out of ammo and hurl their helmets at each other; and in a quick flash of a German soldier making a hurried gesture resembling the Catholic sign of the cross blink and you miss it.

In a nearly three hour film, those 15 seconds do not counter-balance the straw men Spielberg has fashioned. He has shown even these skimpy scenes only to make his point more convincingly--yes, he grudgingly seems to be saying in these snipetts--the Germans are sort of human, maybe--but not anywhere on par with the noble and lovable Americans.

This would not wash in a s war film about Korea or Vietnam. Spielberg's longtime insistence on avoiding adult themes, instead taking refuge in nostalgia, special effects, remakes, and sequels, seemed to be directly responsible for rather perniciously preventing non-Spielberg-like films from being produced. As well, the overwhelming number of Spielberg imitators, many producing films under Spielberg's own auspices, have largely contributed commercially successful hackwork.

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Hollywood noted the irony, too, that it was in the Spielberg production of The Twilight Zone movie directed by John Landis that two children and actor Vic Morrow should have been killed in a clearly avoidable accident in which the children's employment violated child-labor law. The Color Purple , although conforming to Spielberg's typical pattern of the hidden antagonist, backed off from an explicit representation of Celie's lesbianism, turning her instead into a cute E.

Thus the confrontation of the hidden antagonist Celie's true nature became a kind of missing climax in a film which many critics ridiculed. After The Color Purple , when receiving the Irving Thalberg award from the Motion Pictures Academy, Spielberg gave a widely quoted speech which seemed surprisingly to admit responsibility for the state of American film culture: "I think in our romance with technology and our excitement at exploring all the possibilities of film and video, I think we have partially lost something. It's time to renew our romance with the word; I'm as culpable as anyone in exalting the image at the expense of the word.

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Nevertheless, when this film was overshadowed in many ways by Bertolucci's Asia epic, The Last Emperor , Spielberg seemed to beat a hasty retreat into safer material. Always , a remake of A Guy Named Joe in which Spielberg portrayed adult relationships within a fantasy context including helpful ghosts, was both a critical and financial failure.

Even more distressing was the critical failure of the Hook , in which Spielberg's professed appreciation for the word disappeared under the weight of charmless Hollywood juveniles having onscreen food fights amidst special effects gleefully presented by Spielberg as artistic entertainment. Although critics had for years suggested that the source material Peter Pan would provide Spielberg his most natural material a boy not wanting to grow up , many were stunned when Spielberg's version finally arrived: bloated, overlong, overproduced, looking more like a vapid amusement park ride or a multimillion dollar commercial for a new attraction at the Universal Studio Tour than a film.

Its artistic message—that its adult Peter Pan should work less and spend more quality time with his children—was in ludicrous contradiction to the herculean effort required by all, including its director, to devote themselves to such a high-budget, effects-heavy project; thus the film emerges as the most cynical, hypocritical attempt to play on audience sentiment to attract boxoffice in the Spielberg oeuvre.

The year marked a turning point for Spielberg—with the release of two films in the same year that could not have been more different.


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Jurassic Park , a cinefantastique wonder showing dinosaurs wreaking havoc in a contemporary theme park, was a roller-coaster ride which fast became the most commercially successful film of all time, bypassing even Spielberg's own E. Although the special effects were mostly marvelous and definitely the reason for the film's appeal can anyone who has seen the film ever forget the startlingly graceful images of apatosaurs grazing in the forest?

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And indeed, deficiencies may be attributed to Spielberg losing some interest in the project—for the other Spielberg film released in was the film which would finally, irrevocably answer his critics: a black-and-white film photographed in a radically different camera style, devoid of the famous Spielberg backlighting as well as his traditional over-the-top orchestrations, using virtually unknown actors, and all on the single most unremittingly serious subject of the contemporary world: the Holocaust.

Spielberg's Schindler's List was his most striking, overwhelming work; with it, he finally won his Academy Awards for film and director, as well as best film awards from the L. For a serious film, Schindler's List was also amazingly successful with the public, which was powerfully moved and horrified by the film.

Based on the real-life story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who actually saved over a thousand Jews by employing them at his factory, Schindler's List , keping with the Spielberg ethos, emphasized the most hopeful components of the story without minimizing or denying its horrifying components. The film's coda, which showed the actors along with their real-life counterparts who survived because of Schindler visiting the gravesite of the real Schindler, was criticized by some, but this strategy insisted the audience understand the story as historical and gave the film an even greater emotional depth.

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Although time will tell whether Schindler's List will retain its instant reputation as a great, towering achievement comparable to, say, Alain Resnais's short Night and Fog , the definitive Holocaust film, the film has—according to his own testimony—altered Spielberg's life, sensibility, and career.

The first artistic work that allowed Spielberg directly to explore his Jewish heritage, Schindler's List so consumed him that he has since embarked on what he has called his most important life's work: a video project documenting the survivors of the Holocaust for educational purposes. In interviews given before his multiple Academy Award wins, Spielberg has also said that he could no longer imagine going back to directing the kinds of films he made before Schindler's List. Either Spielberg's sincerity must be regarded as suspect or his resolve as short-lived, for he followed the winning of his first Academy-award by directing The Lost World , a Jurassic Park sequel unnecessary for any motive except craven profit, in the process becoming more a designer of amusement park attractions than an artist.

Psychologically vacuous, The Lost World shows men with gadgets who say things like "Lindstrade air rifle.

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Fires a sub-sonic impact delivery dart. When at one point, we even see a man ripped in half by two dinosaurs competing for their dinner, we understand that the humanism of Schindler's List has been replaced by the expediency of efficient, crowd-pleasing violence: it feels almost like a pornographic vision.


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The few pleasures in The Lost World come from its irony—Jeff Goldblum, for instance, responding to a colleague's awe at the dinosaurs: "Yeah, 'ooh, ahhh,' that's how it always starts. But then later there's running and then screaming. Amistad , a noble subject in the tradition of Schindler's List , deals with the shipboard revolt of fifty-three African slaves. Despite the film's idealism and the genuine interest of its historical narrative, much of Amistad is problematic.

In a surprising review in the Los Angeles Times , Kenneth Turan put forward the thesis that for Spielberg, "There's been leakage from the no-brainers to the quality stuff and. Dialogue in Amistad seems incredibly stilted, as reflected in this retort to John Quincy Adams, which passes as conversational: "There remains but one task undone, one vital task the founding fathers left to their sons before their thirteen colonies could precisely be called United States, and that task, sir, as you well know, is crushing slavery. As well, there are conceptual lapses: the moral outrage of slavery has little to do with the thunder and lightning Spielberg uses in many of the shipboard sequences, and Spielberg's traditional backlighting—particularly during the Middle Passage of the slaves' journey—adds a sheen of romanticism totally inappropriate to his subject.

Although the black slave leader's passionate outburst in court is certainly moving, that it comes after he sees a picture of Christ and that it is accompanied by a theme, which if African is orchestrated in the style of a heavenly choir directly out of The Ten Commandments , seem conceptually suspect, too: is it only with the inspiration of Christian myths of sacrifice that black slavescan find their African voice?

These failings exist simultaneously with wonderful, expressive moments, particularly those which are silent: an ebony-muscled body framed against a black sky full of stars—an image suggesting the rapturous universal beauty of black. Unforgettable, too, is a slave mother falling backwards and overboard with her newborn baby in order to commit suicide rather than submit; even more horrifying is the sight of fifty slaves, shackled together in a line and tossed into the ocean, each one dragged by the weight of the other, as if they were only so much ballast.

Although Spielberg has gotten Hollywood credit for making socially significant films, his "social" films take respectably safe subjects: can anyone be in favor of concentration camps or slavery? So far Spielberg has avoided contemporary stories of anti-Semitism, racial injustice, or social inequity which might alienate some spectators, raise controversy, or invite more ambivalent emotions. Of course, Spielberg is more interested in story-telling than in changing the world. Even in Amistad , John Quincy Adams' advice on how to win a case sounds suspiciously like Spielberg's mantra: "What is their story?

Later, when Adams offers tribute to the leader of the slave revolt, his comment that "if he were white. Amistad was followed by another excursion into the past: Saving Private Ryan , a war story which begins with the June 6, D-Day storming of Omaha Beach. Saving Private Ryan seems to be that rarest entity: an instant classic—particularly in its D-Day sequence, which presents the confusion and the terror, the beach running red with blood, the literal viscera of graphic violence.