Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Cinema of Steven Spielberg (1): Toward the Lights

A quick note about my last post: it wasn’t made clear that the author theory is an interpretative angle amongst others, one I particularly like, but it’s certainly not exclusive. So, for my analysis of Steven Spielberg’s cinema that follows, which will be divided in two or three parts, I’m only using scenes, motives or images that are most relevant for him as an author, but it’s not to say that it’s all there is. His cinema is a tapestry with multiple intertwining threads, like it was once said about Hitchcock, and the closer we look, the better we see the subtleties and the complexity of his work. I’m trying to describe the main picture as I see it, following with my words his leading thread, but whole other subtexts are just waiting to be revealed underneath. Here’s part one:

Steven Spielberg lost the respect he once had: at first, he was celebrated as a young genius, a virtuoso with an undeniable cinematic flair, but now we talk of him with a whiff of suspicion, mainly because he’s often depicted as the prime architect of the blockbusters, this so-called plague of modern cinema. For his detractors, Jaws’ massive box-office success in 1975 signaled the end of a New Hollywood apparently bursting with creativity, this haven of artistic freedom slowly disappearing under the pressure of a newfound interest for monetary gain, until soulless teenage flicks reigned over the patently commercial Hollywood of today. This, maybe, we could forgive, after all Spielberg didn’t intend to make the first blockbuster in cinema history; however, he also shaped our conception of escapist entertainment by popularizing a form of grandiloquent and boisterous spectacle, movies so obsessed with their own artifices that they get lost inside their technological prowess, without a thought about a reality they try to evacuate – at least, that’s what we say about him, but do these reproaches hold up? Well, they do sometimes for certain scenes in some of his movies, but that would be quite a superficial outlook on an exceptional author trying to introduce the notion of responsibility in these infantile blockbusters he supposedly gave birth to.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A Thoughtful Love

The author theory seems to be greatly misunderstood nowadays. Or maybe it’s not new, I don’t know, but for sure, now, the idea of defending all movies made by a single filmmaker is seen as poor criticism, or as blindness to the possible (unavoidable) faults of an artist; apparently it’s far more relevant to judge every movie on its own basis, and to forget who made it because this knowledge can cloud our judgment. I’m slightly exaggerating, but how many times to we read things like “if you didn’t know this movie was made by X, you would not be so lenient”; well, that’s the point, it is made by X, so why pretend it is not?

Recently, amongst the many articles written about Paul Thomas Anderson latest movie, The Master, we got another good example of this attitude, in a text by Stephanie Zacharek published by the A.V. Club, where she wrote “The idea that certain filmmakers reach a point where respect is their due, rather than something they earn film by film, defies one of the most immediate and visceral pleasures of movie going: the pleasure of seeing for yourself. Plus, isn’t it a lot more boring to march around on a filmmaker’s behalf, trumpeting the significance of intentions and reputations, than it is to wrangle with the actual movies?” But doesn’t wrangling with the movies also imply to consider who actually made them? When Steven Spielberg shows a rising moon giving chase to robots in A.I., are we supposed to forget it’s the same man who gave us the iconic image from E.T., this gentle and heartwarming moon, which also happens to be the logo of his company, Amblin? I haven’t seen Lincoln yet, which will come out in a few days, but I know already that I will love it, as I did with War Horse even though it was Spielberg at its worst. This is not blindness: I can see what’s wrong with the movie, but these flaws are far less interesting than my encounter with the moving thoughts of a true author. Sure, he can faltered from time to time, but being able to follow someone else’s train of thoughts is a fascinating and deeply intimate experience, much more rare and precious than the experience of a good but impersonal movie, so why should we deny ourselves this pleasure? In my mind, some filmmakers undoubtedly have earned their respect: we can’t easily dismiss any movie made by Terrence Malick, to take an example used by Zacharek, because even if To the Wonder is a piece of shit (I don’t know, but I doubt it), it will still be the outcome of a great mind struggling with itself, and there’s nothing boring, or simple, in trying to understand the thought process of an author thinking through images. At worse, it’s infuriating, “how can he fall so low?”, but never boring.