Why Steven Spielberg Is My Favorite Director

What is cinema? Oxford dictionary defines it as the ‘art or industry of producing films’, yet every film aficionado reading this knows better. More closer to the truth was Andrei Tarkovsky, who defined cinema as ‘a mosaic of time’, and also Ingmar Bergman, who asseverated it to be ‘either a document or a dream’. There are many such definitions, all of which go further to show that even the very meaning of cinema is inscrutably bound to the ordeal of subjectivity, just as it is when it comes to how it is perceived. So since cinema is different things to different people, the definition of cinema is also bound to vary from person-to-person. Some will define it in terms of their favorite directors’ oeuvre (like Jonathan Rosenbaum does with regards to Carl Dreyer), some will define it in terms of the utility cinema serves for them (like escapism, self-addressal, etc.), while some may even define it in terms of a socio-political-economic context. Personally speaking, as I always am, gauging cinema for me has always been treading on that fine line of what it invokes, and what it chooses not to. It has always been for me that unintelligible euphoria after walking out of a great movie, experiencing the indiscernible where all emotions seemingly converge yet never let you pinpoint on any one of them. So, in my case, I choose to define cinema as ‘cinema is what cinema does’.

Now, I want you to forget all that for some time and start over. Again. Here. With me.

The origins of cinema show it in its naive and purest form, unadulterated of any influences from other forms of arts. They show averseness to complexity, choosing rather a straight path en route to the viewer’s consciousness. Remember the character introductions in Birth of a Nation (where the good-evil distinction is established by how the characters treat animals) or in Nosferatu (where the terrifying Nosferatu is established with a low-angle shot so as to impose his larger-than-life nature). With the passing of time however, cinema gradually assumed a more complex form (and for the greater good) becoming apt at dealing with themes which had been deemed out of bounds for the rest of the arts. And that is the cinema of today, which can chronicle anything from the depths of an individual (Synecdoche New York) to that of the universe (The Tree Of Life). These two forms represent polarities of the very sort the Greek philosopher Parmenides once took great pains to jot down, and the fact that the transition was from the seemingly negative to the positive, it further adds on to my case there.

The thread which binds these two apparently unrelated paragraphs together, and the actual focus of this post, is my favorite director Steven Spielberg. Spielberg’s filmography has been personified by an unparalleled diversity in subject matter, the half of which seems to be poles apart from the other half. His work captures cinema for me in its transitionary realm, from the naive to the mature. Speaking broadly here, there exist two Spielbergs for most: – the ‘blockbuster’ Spielberg and the ‘serious’ Spielberg. Pauline Kael, a fan of the former, called his work ‘a boy soprano singing with joy’. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, all signalled the arrival of a born entertainer, whose works were plain fun done with heedless joy. The energy is infectious here, with boundless imagination at play at a breakneck speed. But under the jovial brouhaha, lies a deeper layer. Take Raiders of the Lost Ark for example – When Indiana grabs the hood ornament of a Mercedes truck, it snaps off. When the Ark is being transported in a Nazi ship, the swastika catches fire. And obviously, there is obviously the character of Belloq (think carefully, doesn’t he mirror Occupied France?). All of these sardonic wits masked under the unrelenting action.

If Pauline Kael didn’t see the arrival of a film artist, the reasons are the same as it goes for most, for she did never care to look beyond the intelligible lie Spielberg parades around, while effectively masking the unintelligible truth, with the dismissive attitude inherent towards blockbusters further helping the notion. It is this subtle touch Spielberg gives to his larger-than-life stories that stand out: – holding back the shark for the first hour in Jaws to build the audience’s anxiety and so on. But furthermore, I see even in these movies an expression of the self as personal as Truffaut’s in 400 Blows. These movies seem like a getaway to Spielberg towards his younger self, to discover again and invoke in others the same excitement that beheld him when he first saw the trains crashing in The Greatest Show On Earth. There is another predominant element: – the troubled parent-child relationship. In E.T. and Indiana Jones, Spielberg’s pains from the past of his parents’ divorce resurface, and that he does express them in the most unembellished form we can think of is to also understand that he does so in the very form that he felt them.

Then there was the inevitable transition, with his work assuming a startling maturity. Spielberg started making movies he didn’t ‘have’ to make, but ‘needed’ to. In Schindler’s List, we have the two halfs of human nature, with the monstrous personified along with the sacrificing, both seeping into each other at points and hence, clearly evading a black-and-white characterization. The implications Spielberg raises with the interpreter character in Saving Private Ryan raised it above another run-of-the mill patriotic war movie expected of him, and Munich grapples with questions for all nations that believes it must compromise its values to defend them.

Some movies, dear reader, are to make us feel, some to make us think, some to take away our problems and some to examine them. While most greats try to master one of these facets, Spielberg’s oeuvre charters through all of them. Some of them misfire for me, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The BFG, but the vices in his movies stand taller for me than the merits of most others.

His work has been labelled as kitsch by many, but I sincerely disagree. His films are rather a yearning of kitsch, a struggle to achieve the idealized version of the world he envisions for himself, surrounded by the background noise that is the reality of the world we live in. Am I biased towards Spielberg? Probably, yes. His works paint the entire mosaic of cinema to me, in other words, they do all that ‘cinema can do’. I know this article hasn’t divulged any objective standpoints from where the appreciation of Spielberg may accentuate among his haters, but it has promulgated what he means to me. For when it comes to Spielberg, I can only be personal, only view his work through the prism of my own being. But it is the same manner of how I view cinema too. Hence, for me, Spielberg and cinema remain the very same.


The Post Review

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

These where the words of George Augustine Washington, a president so beloved that after his second term, the crowds supplicated for a third.  He was succeeded 36 terms later by a man whose words where ‘When the president does it, it means that it is not illegal‘. Richard Milhous Nixon was a weed in the garden of democracy, and The Post is about those who decided it was about time to uproot him from there.

Unlike All The President’s Men by Alan Pakula (a masterpiece with which unfair comparisons are bound to crop up, thematically and artistically), Spielberg’s vision doesn’t scrutinize the method of the investigation. There is no cross checking of directories or following up on those allocation of funds (which always seem to end up in shell companies by the way) or anything remotely of that sort. What it does is play itself out like a morality play, from which we learn how journalists should behave.

The plot seemingly runs on two parallels for most of the run time, resulting both in the jarring effect the first half exudes and the power the second half emanates. One of them circles around Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of Washington Post whose journalistic sagacity and an anomalous active interest in the affairs of other newspapers has lead him to cognize that something extremely pivotal is set to materialize in the political scenario, something that may just be the turnaround for the shabby state of Washington Post at that time if they happen to get their hands on it. The second plot thread follows Kay Graham, the owner of Washington Post who has enough troubles on her mind even without the Pentagon papers, since the company is going public and the shareholders seem to have a wavered confidence in her capabilities to lead it. Making the affairs further complex is that Kay has personal relations with the parties whose lives and careers will be rocked beyond repairs if the papers go into print. And in the midst of all this bedlam, the truth awaits patiently to be shone light upon.

The quandaries I had with the movie are quite sparse, yet it would be helpful to jot them right here, considering my inherent vice to dabble in the concluding paragraphs to exhibit my own personal views and in the way forgetting to play the role of a ‘critic’. The very first of them (and seemingly, the last of them) is a non harmonious flow of affairs that commences with the two story lines running on different platitudes, with almost nothing expect the similar crop of faces creating a link between the two. Does it accentuate the the climax you may ask, and yes will I say, but in my book, the ends do not justify the means when it comes to movies at least and a natural proclivity for the Pentagon papers rather than the stockholders’ meetings renders the Graham thread insipid in some parts.

What it does right is that it establishes character. We are acclimatized to their demeanor and their fears so succinctly, that we chalk up our own character arcs in our minds on how they will respond to a certain situation. And herein Spielberg plays a masterstroke :- he lets us believe we are right about them. Streep, giving one of her greatest performances on film, seems suffocated by her societal shackles which delude her from working for the interests of her enterprise, and Hanks’ plays the newspaper man with such finesse that it is hard to suspect whether all he cares about is something that sells or the hard hitting truth. We know who these people are, and that is where in the final 30 minutes when things start going haywire, we realize we couldn’t have known less about them.

What it does right is that it establishes the stage perfectly for what facet of the story it wanted to explore. By maintaining a duly curb on the investigation process, the wayward shift from the newsroom to the nation wide debate that ensues about freedom of press seems like a naturalistic transition rather than capitalizing on the present skewed political scenario from where it gleans its relevance from.

Dear reader, truth does set us free, but first it pisses us off. The Post is about a select few who were pissed, and wanted others to be as well. The scenes where the journalists huddle in silence, or when the printing machines hum to life to prepare the ‘first rough drafts of history’ as the movie puts it or where the Watergate fiasco comes to life happen to be the most powerful. It is because what we are seeing is the truth coming to life, and as human beings, it resonates with the conscience of one and all. From the facade of lies that liars like Nixon weave to delude is, it is these journalists who save us from time to time, not so much by the rectitude of Grahams as by the dogged curiosity of Bens. Those who view The Post just as a statement on the current shabby affairs of politics is missing the cohesive whole. Sure, it asks us, have all the men who succeeded George Washington to that chair been half-worthy of it ? But it also subtly asks, would you be so invigorated if the film playing was a feed from any newsroom of today ?


Photo Rights : Google Images, Wikipedia

Copyright : All written content on this site, unless otherwise noted, has been created by the website owner. As such, the content is the property of the website owner. This content is protected by Indian and international copyright laws. If you wish to reproduce, re-post, or display any of our content on your own site please only do so if you also provide a link back to the source page on this website and properly attribute authorship. Our preference is that you seek our permission before doing so. If you see anything on this website that has not been properly attributed to its originator please contact me. In response, I will attempt to correct the attribution of the offending material or remove and/or replace it. All material on this website is posted in accordance with the limitations set forward by the Information Technology Act, 2000. If a documented copyright owner so requests, their material will be removed from published display, although the author reserves the right to provide linkage to that material or to a source for that material. As a website devoted to discussing and reviewing movies and television I will at times, for illustrative purposes, present copyrighted material, the use of which might not always be specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available for purposes such as criticism, comment, and research. The website owner believes that this constitutes a “fair use” of any such copyrighted material because the articles published on this website are distributed for entertainment purposes