Monday, January 30, 2012

Spielberg under the knife

A tweet from Mark Horowitz alerted me to this dissection of Steven Spielberg in Slate from a once and future admirer, named Bill Wyman (not THAT Bill Wyman, he must be tired of saying). For shorter discussion purposes, this list ranks all his movies from "The Sublime" down to "We're going to need a bigger boat. " (In the latter: "the Terminal" and "Always", which he likes less than the last Indiana Jones movie....). I liked this about Spielberg's effect on other, younger, directors:

In the last year, both Jon Favreau (Cowboys & Aliens) and J.J. Abrams (Super 8) have offered us Spielberg homages (in both cases, oddly enough, under the protective producership of Spielberg himself). Is it a coincidence that, in both cases, the directors delivered work far beneath what they are capable of? In Cowboys & Aliens, which could have taken Indiana Jones into a new world of genre mashups, a delicious premise starts out amiably enough, introducing a spectrum of characters one by one. But then the demands of showcasing the technology overwhelms the story. The characters become inconsistent and the plot becomes increasingly risible. (Wait—the aliens sent Daniel Craig back to earth with a secret weapon on his wrist that could blow up their spaceship?!)

Super 8 is even weirder; it’s a deliberate homage to the Great Master’s work, right down to the camera flares that salute E.T. It starts with group of kids making movies, just like Spielberg himself did. Abrams elicits their charms and emotions effortlessly. But the movie’s second half is a drag; forced, arbitrary, noisy, and senseless, just like much of the later work of Spielberg himself. Abrams let his sensibilities be overwhelmed, just as Spielberg did—by the stiltedness of The Color Purple, the heavy-handed sentimental manipulations of Hook, the schlockiness of War Horse, or just the sheer noisome randomness of Minority Report or War of the Worlds. It’s almost as if Abrams’s unconsciously encoded into the film the arc of Spielberg’s career. It’s the story of a filmmaker whose talent for great pop art was too thin a foundation on which to build bigger things—and it’s ultimately an arc of failed promise.


Richard Gehr said...

Hey Tulk. I couldn't care less about Spielberg, but Wyman's review of Keith Richards's autobiography from the POV of Mick Jagger is rather majestic (if not satanic).

Tulkinghorn said...

Richard! Didn't know you were here...

Hope you and yours are all well.

Christian Lindke said...

It says a lot about Wyman and his cynicism that he finds "Catch Me if You Can" hollow and "Always" to be among the worst of Spielberg's work.

In all honesty, those are two of my favorite films...period. I find "Always" to be a wonderful romance that is sugary rather than saccharine. It's sweetness is sincere and touches my heart. My wife feels much the same way about it.

As for "Catch Me?" It is traditional film making at its best. It rejects all of the tropes of the "new era" of directing that emerged in the 70s as a reaction to French New Wave. It has none of the Maverick tendencies of films like "The Wild Bunch," "Taxi Driver," or "The Deer Hunter" (both great films BTW). Instead, it presents the audience with straight classic Hollywood with modern cinematography and produces pure magic.

"Jaws" has great acting, but is over the top pulp excitement. The part of me that loves old Doc Savage stories adores "Jaws," but the skeptic sees the strings. As for E.T., it is so melodramatic that I actually had a girlfriend laugh at the film's lowest point. Genuine raucous laughter. Like "Jaws," the strings are overly visible.

In fact, "Cowboys vs. Aliens" and "Super 8" share more with Wyman's favorite Spielberg films than they do with his least favorite. I find it ironic that he can apply his critical eye to the next generation, but cannot see through his own nostalgia to the weaknesses of his "sublime."

As for "Tintin?" It has dueling shipping cranes...?! Dueling shipping cranes?! What kind of insane set piece is that?! So he and I are of similar, but still different minds with regard to that film.

GoJoe said...

I was smiling ear-to-ear through most of TINTIN. The plane crash in the desert, the pirate flashback, a heist involving an opera singer and trained hawk, the bike chase, the crane see such inventiveness so casually dismissed is kind of depressing. For me the sheer momentum of the majority of TINTIN was joyous.


Christian Lindke said...

The pirate sword fight in TINTIN was amazing and the use of mirage induced flashback was brilliant.