September 19, 2005

Steven Spielberg Memorabilia

So we go into Deseret Industries (an LDS owned chain of thrift stores for those of you living elsewhere on the planet, this is where Napoleon Dynamite found his tape) looking at furniture when I find a novelization of Close Encounters of the Third Kind authored by the director/screenwriter Steven Spielberg! Hardcover first edition. Two dollars. Then in the games section there is the E.T. board game! One dollar.

I like Spielberg a bit more than my peers I think. I don't think that he's gone rotten, his work is just particularly uneven. Sometimes great and sometimes just blah. War of the Worlds is still going to make my end of the year top ten. But I have to say, he used to be really cool. I thumbed through the novelization and while I can't say that it looks like particularly great literature it's sort of surprising how much of Spielberg's aesthetic seeps through. There is something delicate and loving, something empathetic about his description of Barry's (the little boy) room. This was a valuable find.

The E.T. board game was missing most of the pieces. It was supposed to have a plastic E.T. and a spaceship and a deck of cards. There were no directions, but from the looks of it, it seems to be a rip-off of Parchesi. For a film that treated it's audience with so much respect (my wife, seeing it for the first time, expressed gratitude that it never sugarcoated anything for it's target audience) this board game seems to be in line with E.T. merchandise such as the infamous Atari cartridge that seek to cynically rip-off their fans.

Above is what it is suppose to look like. Whoever owned it last also added a box of crayons to the set. Deseret Industries, the reputable business that they are, sold this to me "as is" without specifying what, if anything, was missing. I'm sort of reminded of how thrift store owner Edith Massey sold bags of bottle caps for fifty cents as "grab bags".

I stole that photo from E-bay where the starting bid is also one dollar, but shipping and handling is eight though. Despite being suckered twice over, one dollar seems to be a small price to pay for the indignity.


Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

i hate speilberg. "war of the worlds is the worst movie of the year", no offence.

Alex Jackson said...

None taken. My spouse had a very violent reaction as well. Maybe forty percent because of Dakota, thirty percent because of the relentlessly bleak tone, twenty five percent because of the ending, and five percent is residual from Tom's public wackiness.

Have you seen Mad Hot Ballroom, Dukes of Hazzard, and Robots, by the way?

Anonymous said...

I find Spielberg one of the most misunderstood American directors -- his '70s-'80s ouevre was misinterpreted by many of his followers (many of whom now helm their own productions), not least of all by himself. I love what Spielberg does for the thriller genre in Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark in the same way I love Leone for his treatment of the Western in Once Upon a Time in the West; namely that he reduces the genre to its bare essentials -- gently passing over stunning plot twists and character development in order to create the most exciting atmosphere possible.

But therein lies the problem. Raiders is probably one of the most influential films of the last twenty-five years, if only because it was so simply told. The film carries with it a sense of great storytelling that didn't need to be explicitly told in details; the Hollywood brass took that to mean plotlessness, and how character development could be ignored if one kept the senses thoroughly assaulted with loud noises and such. Totally contrary to the original vision, but there we are. (Similar thing with the Star Wars saga, which fumbled the ball when Lucas caved into nerd pressure and decided to explain the specifics of its universe, rather than simply give the impression of a universe.) Of course, it all sort of goes back to Travis' words on Campbell a few weeks ago.

Spielberg believes his own hype, of course -- it would be hard not to -- and he's prided himself on being Mr. Feelgood, with no other reason other than than to be a feel-good filmmaker. I think he is big on sentimentalism, as often accused, but moreso that he's of the strict filmmaking school of "leave 'em with a smile" audience-pleasing. Again, it's all old news, but I find that War of the Worlds presents a quandary. How can it be so cynical for nearly its entire length, and yet end so cheerily? It's not like he positions the film in any possible way to allow for it -- this is the Apocalypse, for all intents and purposes, and humanity eats itself from the inside out before the aliens dominate the picture. Does he resent cynicism enough to build it up only to decry it, or does he simply go for a "thrill-them-but-make-them-feel-good" approach?

Alex: I don't blame you for your top-ten admission in Worlds (I'm pretty much in agreement with Walter's 90%/10% estimation, but 90% is a huge margin), but what are your feelings about the ending?

(The flipside of Spielberg is when he's making one of his patented dramas, which, whether you honestly love them or hate them, you have to admit are specifically designed to deflect criticism based on subject alone.)

But Robots. Ick. I notice that CGI films are quickly descending into Flintstones and Jetsons territory. Fish puns, robot puns... "Cod Stewart" and "Singin' in the Oil" are not much of a step up from "Dean Martian" and "Cary Granite."

-- Ian

Anonymous said...

Sort of agreed on the War of the Worlds thing, Ian. Even if El Spielbergo held fast to the H.G. Wells ending, there was no way it had to be as saccharine as it was. The son could have died (or, heck, not leapt into the fray) and Boston could have been totalled. It is almost dreamlike (as Walter mused in his review), how there's a city at the edge of the world that remains unscathed, as if it's this gleaming bastion of civilization. And for all the talk of "the masses" and their feel-good entertainments, I think if you asked the casual moviegoer with no particular allegiance to Spielberg whether or not the ending seemed out of place and they'd give you a "yes." Maybe that's a little too naive on my part.

I'm sorry for getting the discussion off-topic, and I won't write any follow-up posts in the interests of putting it back on track, but I honestly have no idea what a Desert Industries is.

Anonymous said...

Oh, also, concerning the E.T. board game -- glad to know that every source I've ever heard considers it a piece of junk. You may want to check out a certain article by America's most certifiably insane social critic (at least, now that the great Hunter S. has left us), Seanbaby: a demented fireworks display featuring E.T.: The Explosive Terrestrial, which, it seems, may also be the only practical use for the game. I see now that the titular game piece somehow makes the alien look even uglier.

Loved the movie, though.

-- Ian

Bill C said...

Geez, that Close Encounters novelization is a seriously great find; I wonder who actually wrote it.

Finally unwrapped my copy of Duel not too long ago and was intrigued by an offhand comment from Spielberg in the supplementals: he says he couldn't make that picture today because he'd overthink it. Something tells me you couldn't tell Spielberg anything he doesn't already know, which is the real tragedy of War of the Worlds' pander-iffic ending.

Bill C said...

And yes, there have been movies far worse than War of the Worlds released this year. I think I saw about 10 of them last week.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Actually Alex, no i haven't. Unlike some of you guys I still have to dish out my own money to watch movies and I know what I'll get (or not get) when I go into something like Dukes of Hazzard. In that way, you can say that my opinion is uninformed, but cannot be discredited just the same because this is trhe worst film I've seen this year (mind you, Crash came out this year).

My problem with Speilberg is not as much with his films as is for a very snobbish reason, I think directly or indirectly Spielberg, Lucas and Cimino are primary reason for death of 70s cinema. American cinema changed into something very trivial the day "jaws" came out and now we've been terrorized by all sorts of monsters for 30 years. The whole shebang became a B-movies industry. Maybe it was bound to happen anyways, they won, but I need my sacrificial lambs god dammit ! Is it unfair on my part ? Probably. But it really bites me that someone like Speilberg who should be working on the sidelines is actually the most influential and badly imitated filmmaker today.

My primary problem with "War of the worlds" was it's absolutely condescending attitude towards my intelligence. Covering all fields from narrative to science to acting.

Here are some of my non-scientific pet peeves:

- Dakota Fanning. Let's just say, If I had a knife it would've been stuck in my forehead during the film.

- Tom Cruise. Knock Knock ! Who's there ? Tom. Tom who ? Tom "I've been sucking giant donkey testicles for quarter of a century" Cruise.

- Through all the fucking rubble and destruction, there is always a clear path through which car can traverse it's way.

- Those damn tripods. Who in the good name of good those things would be convincing to today's audience ? You break a leg and they fall on their faces like... tripods without a leg.

- The whole damn thing is bland and vapid. Nothing to say about anything. Just the usual thrill- "kick in the lungs", one after another every ten minutes like clockwork. I didn't know who to choke when that alien tenticle came into the basement and bored the shit out of me for 10 minuites. Speilberg or Dakota Fanning ? HOW MANY FUCKING TIMES WILL THE GUY DO THE SAME DAMN THING OVER AND OVER ! I MEAN REALLY ! i would've loved to choke Fanning but then again, why shoot the messenger ?

- That fucking teenager-son comes back at the end . AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH ! Does Speilberg reallly think we're that fucking stupid that we would fall for that shit ?

- The usual stereotypical characters. Didn't that piss anyone off ? The rebellious teenager, Estranged father trying to reconcile with his kids, Bitter ex-wife overprotactive of kids with a new "safe" hubby ofcourse after her wild young days with our hunk, Cute-as-a-hallmark greeting card girl who's only job is to yell throughout the damn 2 hours and piss me off. I mean any... just any fucking originality would do. How can you people ignore that ?

- Morgan Freeman narrative. So fucking obvious and pretentious.

- How full of yourself do you have to be to even suggest that a pack-'em-sock-'em modern freak show had anything to do with something as serious as post-9/11 world. I mean who the fuck does this asshole think he is ?

Now some of the scientific ones (highly abridged version):

- If the damn tripods were put there millions of years ago, how the hell do they come out nicely located right in the middle of an intersection ? And ofcourse nobody found a hundred foot tall hunk of metal despite tens of subway, gas and cable lines. What if it was under a building ? How would that alien transported through lightning (ridiculous) thing work then ? We would have a gint alien splat on the roof. Wouldn't we ? I wouldn't have mind paying for that. Also have those stupid bastards ever heard of plate tectonic movement ? The damn thing would come out in the middle of the ocean.

- Why did they wait for millions of years again. Just so that we can make a movie about how they would annhilate us ?

- If no machines are working, how the motheruck does that damn camcorder on the road work ? Cool shot. Who gives a shit ? (This is just one of many many)

- Dakota Fanning. Who I think is an alien.

Overall, didn't someone just go during the pre-production "What the fuck are we doing adapting a 100 year old sci-fi book ?" I mean Shakespear can work. But Welles for christ's sake !

I think the whole media system has become Speilberg's whore (don't mean none of you guys). And it's a sorry state of film criticism that no major critic is willing to say "The fuck was that shit?" (other than ebert maybe). This is what happens when entertainment writers start to write film reviews. Months and months of mind-numbing publicity with everyone going gaga over Speilberg's new blockbuster. Cruise's antics and fake engagement. Have we really become that stupid that we have nothing to talk about but TomKAt and Bennifer ? The whole fucking status quo pisses me off. Like Roenbaum said about Lucas and The Phantom Menace "...tail of Hollywood was wagging the ass, if not the whole dog, of journalism."
Why is it that even terrible Spielberg and Lucas films get high 70's on rottentomatoes ?

Some of you'll say about cheesy science being intentional and the film being a commentary on state of global terrorism and al that mumbo jumbo. BULLSHIT. It's a bad summer blockbuster. That's it.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I just read Walter's review of the film for the first time and I feel stupid for mentioning the same things over (however coincidental that we noticed the same things). However, Walter did seem to get some visceral experience out of the "cinematic" moments. All I got was a waste of two hours, fifteen dollar and a bad case of pissed-the-fuck-off.

Scott said...

I, um, kinda liked it.

Anonymous said...

Tom Cruise is a severely underestimated actor.

Alex Jackson said...

When Wells wrote the novel the idea was simple: what if Martians did to Britain what Britain has done to the rest of the world?

The American crusade in Iraq is a more complicated situation than the War of the Worlds, but still the idea on a basic level is: what if the war was being fought in our backyard?

It's an anti-war movie I guess, but it's somewhat unique among anti-war movies in that it doesn't really preach it's message to us. We don't really understand why the Martians are invading and the point is that it doesn't really matter.

Anybody who claims that Spielberg isn't dark hasn't seen many of his movies. Granted he is dark in a way specific to him, but he's dark all the same. E.T. is pretty brutal, there is something obscene about how the little grey alien is being resurrected in an emergency room by scientists dressed in white; you instinctively pick up on this idea of the domestic sanctuary being violated. War of the Worlds sees Tom Cruise at his least sympathetic, the early scenes have the rank of Scorsese's Cape Fear rewrite. Bad things happening to broken families.

I agree very much with Walter's 90 per cent/10 per cent thing, but I also think that 90 percent is still a lot. What I hate the most about the ending is that it makes me look like an idiot for liking the film. But to tell you the truth I was more accepting of this ending then I was of Jaws (where I thought that everybody should have been eaten by the shark). Whereas the latter is a thematic violation, the former seems merely a tonal one. The ending doesn't neutralize the despair in the rest of the movie, it just signifies that Spielberg couldn't quite make it to the homestretch.

I pay for movies too by the way. I go to the theater about once a week (no matter what they are showing) and during the summer I get double features. I think it's important to see as much of everything that you can, especially the bad, so you can develop your standards better.

Oh,and I don't believe that Jaws and Star Wars destroyed the cinema. I think that it was the PG-13 rating (inspired by the Spielberg directed and Lucas-produced Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the Spielberg produced Gremlins). Pre-1984 you are in this magical wonderland where artistic ability and the resources to realize it meet. Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, Pennies from Heaven, Raging Bull. Fugetaboutit! Post-1984 now that's what we mean when we talk about Hollywood crap.

Dave Gibson said...

Mention of the CE3K novelization reminded me of just how subversive that film was—rife with post-Nixon cynicism which Spielberg maintains throughout-- a perfect counterpoint to the “happy” ending. As I recall, the “Special Edition” of CE3K was early evidence of how Spielberg is his own worst enemy (If he thinks CE3K is about what’s inside the ship—he doesn’t understand his own movie). I was disappointed with “War of the Worlds” for the same reason I rolled my eyes at “Spiderman 2”, “The Hulk” and both “Matrix” sequels—iconic, but essentially shallow material is loaded down with so much self-indulgent gravitas—that the whole thing simply collapses. “War” is occasionally effective as an expensive summer thriller but, it is derailed by Spielberg’s bizarre and cynical exploitation of 9-11 imagery in the service of a rudimentary Science fiction story that has been “dated” since the early forties. Classic science-fiction such as “The Thing From Another World” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” are easily read as political allegories—but they can be enjoyed primarily as great thrillers; ensuring that their understated thematic weight will be far more subversive. Aren’t we still talking about “Invasion” in one way or another? Spielberg has every right to utilize and exploit actual events—but, he does have an artists responsibility to use them as more than window dressing. Throughout the scenes of downed air planes, missing persons collages and seething paranoia (the Tim Robbins’ character was, in a word: ridiculous) I had no idea what point Spielberg was trying to make other than he watches the news; presumably counting on his audience to simply be impressed by the images alone-- (viewed only as an assemblage of individually striking scenes WOTW is a success) Dark and cynical in places—this is also a film that asks us to believe that there is only one armed man on a dock full of hysterical people in a major American city, New Englanders are the chosen ones—and, that an advanced race would succumb so easily (I know it’s in the text—the text aint so good) The tripods were cool—I even ignored the self-evident flaw in their design (Shades of the “Snow Walkers” in “Empire” say I)—but, I guess I shouldn’t be so charitable: “War of the Worlds is the action film as press conference: lots of smoke, cheap sentiment, lip service and a whole lotta nothin’ else. Spielberg’s movie persona used to be jittery Richard Dreyfuss now it’s smilin’ Tom Cruise—the pod people have won.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

A bit overquoted, but Francois Truffaut once said "It is impossible to make an anti-war movie, because the action in them inevitably makes war look exciting." Not a lot of quotes by French New Wave guys make sense but this one hits the nail on the coffin.

In my opinion, the greatest war film ever made also happens to be greatest film ever made, Apocalypse Now. And it does that by showing not the war itself but permanent repurcussions of it in the hearts of those who fight it. The only time there is any "action" in the film, it is preceded by a quiet shot of children in a school getting evacuated. The man on the helm of the "action", Kilgore played by Duvall, is a completely psychotic individual. And there in lies the anti-war statement. Another film I would recommend would be "Terrorist" which follows the same principal.

To say "war of the worlds" is an anti-war statement would be wrong, one because of my agreement with Truffaut's statement. And two, because there are alot of films that can be analyzed in tens of ways and deconstructed intellectually to what filmmaker is really trying to say. I like to do that too but my main focus remains first on wether I like a film or not. I don't like "War of the worlds" or "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Citizen Kane" and there is nothing anyone can tell me about it or intellectual deconstruction behind it that would convince me that I do. Trust me, people have tried. To me, films are visceral experience, and how I feel about them depends on what my gut tells me.

Seeds for the future were sown after "Jaws" crossed 100 mil mark. Now the suits didn't need a director to tell them what people liked, they knoew what people liked and they told directors how to make them. 1978-1984 was just a liminal period where the suits got more and more confident with their template to make money. This happened at the same time when Coppola was making Apocalypse Now, which had a ten-fold budget increase and Cimino brought down the UA. Result: Absolute molestation of American cinema for the worst decade in human history, 1980s.

ps. I haven't seen Pennies from Heaven. Will get it next week.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I can not agree with you more about importance of watching bad films. I was watching parts of "raise your voice" this morning for christ's sake. But unlike you, I just watch them on T.V. I'm a student and usually broke as fuck. Whatever money I have left from movies I spend on weed. So not a lot of leeway for me.

Dave Gibson said...

Hollow, my good man. I agree that the 1980’s spawned a lot of junk from the Touchstone assembly line and loads of unwatchable muck (Mannequin anyone?)—but, don’t cut yourself off from:

After Hours, The Evil Dead 1 & 2, Dead Ringers, Blue Velvet, Day of the Dead, The Quiet Earth, Videodrome, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, The King of Comedy, Die Hard, Full Metal Jacket, Cop, All Night Long, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, Desert Bloom, Repo Man, The Terminator, The Hidden, Fright Night, Jesus of Montreal, Pixote, My Dinner With Andre, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Housekeeping, Wish You Were Here!, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Local Hero and many more fine flicks released in the 1980’s.

Bill C said...

Ah, Desert Bloom--one of my favourite pictures as an exceptionally strange 11-year-old.

The '80s were a better time for movies than most are willing to concede. Thing is it was the first time that corporate executives found themselves in charge of studios, so the assembly-line mentality of the '30s and '40s quickly resurfaced. And, of course, that environment (not to mention the Hays Code), produced a lot of gems. I'm wondering if true art can only emerge in a repressive society.

I'd also add Something Wild, Explorers, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and dozens more to Dave's list.

Alex Jackson said...

Mr. Statistics here.

I put that list into chronological order, believing that it would support my point that the movies died in 1984. The strategy backfired. Whereas I could explain away a concentration of good films in 1985, 1987 seemed to me to be a pretty barren year (the Best Picture nominees were Moonstruck, Hope and Glory, Fatal Attraction, Broadcast News, and the winner The Last Emperor. Meh), but you have found a whole cache of films to love.

For the curious here is the grouping:

The Evil Dead 1: 1981
All Night Long: 1981
Pixote: 1981
My Dinner With Andre: 1981
Pink Floyd: The Wall: 1982
Local Hero: 1983
Videodrome: 1983
The King of Comedy: 1983
Repo Man: 1984
The Terminator: 1984
Blood Simple: 1984 (although arguably 1985)
Fright Night: 1985
After Hours: 1985
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: 1985
Day of the Dead: 1985
The Quiet Earth: 1985
Desert Bloom: 1986
Blue Velvet: 1986
Housekeeping: 1987
Wish You Were Here: 1987
Full Metal Jacket: 1987
The Evil Dead 2: 1987
Raising Arizona: 1987
The Hidden: 1987
Dead Ringers: 1988
Die Hard: 1988
Cop: 1988
Crimes and Misdemeanors: 1989
Jesus of Montreal: 1989

My list of greats from the 80s would probably be heavily focused on 1984 and more controversially 1989 (sorry and a kind fuck you to anybody who thinks otherwise, but Field of Dreams and Parenthood are my peeps).

I, uh, did not think that War of the Worlds made war look fun. The earthlings never get proper revenge and never really kick any Martian ass, the exploding vagina thing withstanding. The invasion felt so arbitrary that the (simple)message behind the film seemed to be that to the civilians getting the shit bombed out of them ideology and agenda is irrelevant.

Apocalypse Now is great because like Platoon and Come and See (two of my other all time favorite war movies) it is simulatenously pro-war and anti-war and embraces how fun war is as well as the toll it takes on the soldier's soul. What's interesting about War of the Worlds is that it pretty much disregards the role of the soldier altogether.

Spending your moneies on pot instead of Dukes of Hazzard is, by the way, probably the wiser choice.

Bill C said...

Anybody see the BFI's critic's poll of the Top 10 movies since 1978?

Interesting that 70% their choices for the Top 10 Films of the past 27 years originate in the '80s. (How, how, how could I have forgotten to mention Once Upon a Time in America somewhere in this conversation?)

Anonymous said...

A few not to be forgotten: Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981), Altman's Secret Honor (1984), and Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Just thought I might throw those into the mix.

-- Ian

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I think it would've been obvious that I didn't mean that no great films were made in 1980s at all ! for christ's sake, it was 10 years ! but compare that to 70s or, hell, even 90s.

You guys missed my three favorite films of the 80s:

Paris, Texas
Mystery Train
My own private Idaho

I'm sure there are many more, but that's not the point. 80s still sucked giant testicles. Music, movies everything.

Also, "War of the Worlds" did make war look fun. I was on the side of those stupid tripods. Evaporating people ! Awesome ! I wish I could do that.

And I completely disagree that Apocalypse Now is pro-war in any way. Fuck... I don't wanna go to war after seeing that movie.

Bill C said...

My Own Private Idaho came out in 1991.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Yeah. you're right. my bad.

btw bill, I saw california split. loved every damn second of it. thanks for recommending it.

Alex Jackson said...

Don't know why you identified with the tripods frying the humans in War of the Worlds and not Kilgore obliterating the Vietnamese in Apocalyse Now; particularly since the Martians surprisingly resisted anthropomophization and the Vietnamese, when all was said and done, were basically treated like pop up targets, but OK. I guess we saw different movies.

By the way, let's not forget Wenders' Wings of Desire along side Paris Texas. And 1984. And I'd put Batman and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure on the list also.

Alex Jackson said...

Oh and I forgot Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy. More will probably come to mind as I let 'er simmer.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I didn't identify with Kilgore because I actually take Apocalypse Now very seriously. War of the Worlds was a joke from the first frame, so my view of it was very ironical. A single silent pan in Apocalypse Now with all the school kids getting evacuated derived more compassion from me then constant screeching by Dakota Fanning in War of the waorlds. I just didn't take that film seriously. So watching those humans getting evaporated was like playing a videogame for me. Kill them bastards !

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Plus... I like watching Americans get obliterated.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Alex, you sound smart and seem to have a good taste in films (we hardly ever agree, but I can see why you like the films you do). I'm just curious how you can overlook all those things that I mentioned above about "War of the Worlds" ? Didn't they bother you even just a little ?

Walter_Chaw said...

I have that Close Encounters novelization – I don’t think that Spielberg wrote a word of it. I seem to recall reading an article about it from around the time of its publication that all but said as much. Besides Paul Schrader, others who worked on the CE3K script sans credit were Jerry Belson, John Hill, Hal Barwood, and poor Matthew Robbins (the latter the team behind one of my favorite 80s flicks, Dragonslayer) – but because of some personality peculiarity arising sometime after Jaws, Spielberg became pathologically incapable of sharing credit with collaborators. The book was a way, I think, for SS to glory-hog a little in a medium that, unlike film, demanded respect.

I feel like SS is a genius of a very specific kind, but like late-Capra, he lets his populism get in the way of his craft. To the point now that his populism is actually anti-humanist. The end of War of the Worlds to me is one of the most cynical, dispossessed moments in modern cinema – a statement by someone with absolutely no relationship to the trials of the day-to-day schlub, more interested in grafting these horrifically patronizing endings onto what, for the most part, strike me as visually strong, evocative pieces. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt the horror of slavery as deeply in mainstream cinema as I did in the mutiny scene that opens Amistad, nor do I recall ever feeling as ashamed of the Oprah-fication of these United States as I did during the whole of The Color Purple. True that Walker sucks – but, Jesus. It’s worse because Spielberg is really fucking good at what he does – a shame that he doesn’t have the muscle to make a film that’s complicated on purpose.

It’s interesting to analyze who and why you’ve been insulted, but you get tired of getting insulted just the same.

The 90/10 equation, to me, is a troubling one because if I have a great meal at a fancy restaurant, only to find a rat leg in my crème brule – my memories of the evening will not be good ones. In fact, all the “great” that came before is suddenly subject to closer scrutiny and endless mental revision. What I get from WOTW at the end is that people suffered and died on 9/11 and in Iraq – but not me and nobody I know. (This all without even going into the Holocaust imagery.) The ending doesn’t have to make you dislike the film, but it does have to call into question what it was about the film that worked and why.

Besides, it’s not Wells’ ending – Wells’ ending is the virus and the allegory for malaria (and what better time than post-9/11 for the humans to use biological weapons? isn’t that better than hoping that Tripod Bin Laden gets the chicken pox?) – it’s the Spielberg ending finding the stars of the 1953 original making cameos as the grandparents while the boy who goes off to war (in what I think is one of the great scenes in 2005) shows up unscathed and wanting a hug.

As a sidenote: if you think Fanning is hard to take in this one – wait’ll you see Dreamer (shudder).

Three post-1984 ‘80s films I adore, by the way: Predator, Aliens and Back to the Future - the three films that, for me, describe the Reagan-era fantasia in my memory. I was 12, 13, and 14 when those films came out and for me, that was cinema paradiso, man. They hold up remarkably well upon re-view, too – at least I think they do, I’m too stained by nostalgia to be able to judge without corruption. Empire Strikes Back, of course, was 1980 (making it literally a 70s film, I guess), but there’s also Down By Law (1985) – and, dipping a toe outside native soil (which is really not the point, I realize): Kieslowski’s Dekalog, Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective (1986) and the great, forgotten Dreamchild with an assist by Jim Henson Studios.

That being said – and not meaning to pile on to a closed discussion but doing it anyway just because I want to type those titles – 80s ain’t no 70s, fer sure.

Agree with Dave that CE3K is subversive as hell. The last truly subversive SS film, I think. Which Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Thing are you talking about? Context suggests the great ‘50s versions – but the Kaufman Invasion and the Carpenter Thing (another great 80s flick) are un-freaking-believably good in just the same way as you describe. I even have a soft spot for Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers - if only for that scene with the kids’ drawings in the classroom – oh, and for Gabriel Anwar naked in a bathtub. Re: SS’ WOTW, I thought it would’ve been great if the Tim Robbins character comes outta that room and the rest of the film is him maybe diddling Fanning while running from the red menace. How’s that for controversial? Love what you say about the Pollyannaish qualities of WOTW – that’s the point I try to make with a lot more difficulty.

Holy shit: Desert Bloom. What a great flick. I thought for a minute that you guys were talking about Desert Hearts (another pretty good ‘80s flick) which just happens to be one of the most over-watched flicks of my lonesome early teens. Zowee.

Agree with Bill, by the by, that great art comes from great repression. Also suggest (agree?) that Once Upon a Time in America is perhaps the great film from the decade.

Apocalypse Now remains one of the most disturbing films that I’ve ever experienced - by the way. I feel like taking a shower just talking about it.

Walter_Chaw said...

By the way, Proof & An Unfinished Life, hot off the presses.

Bill C said...

Glad you liked California Split, H-Man; it really is one of the Altman essentials. Love that the ending is exactly the ending you always wish those movies had--and then they turn around and show you why those movies never end that way.

Add Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale to the ever-ballooning list of Close Encounters' uncredited authors. On the Back to the Future DVD, one Bob or the other seems to accidentally blurt out, "We were writing Close Encounters at the time." Bag, say goodbye to Cat.

I have the George Lucas novelization of Star Wars, and even when I was eight years old, I had a hard time believing he wrote it. I'm betting that somebody like William Kotzwinkle ghost-wrote these books.

Dave Gibson said...

Walter, "Touchstone with a pedigree"? Awesome. I'd rather sit through "The Gun In Betty Lou's Handbag" or Stallone's "Oscar" (or "Cold Mountain" for that matter)than subject myself to "Chocolat" again. "Proof" got a lot of: "my how gloriously twee" accolades at the TIFF--so, I assume it will be a shoo-in for actress and screenplay nominations come winter. ( And, I'm eagerly awaiting two enthusiastic, big thumbs way, way UP!) RE: An Unfinished Life.I too sadly remember the engaging, charismatic performer from "Blood & Wine" and "Out of Sight" and still wonder how performers can start out with the likes of Sodebergh and Rafelson--then work their way "up" to "Monster in Law" and "Gigli"--it happens I guess, Liza Minelli wasn't such a bad actress either. But I guess that's a common lament in a Hollywood where all the orignal, new talents seem destined to follow their startling, bold debuts with "Green Lantern: The Movie"

Alex Jackson said...

I like how Pauline Kael gave Spielberg his one and only get out of jail free card for The Color Purple because she loathed the novel so much. That's an angle: this movie is a Disneyfication of a pointlessly brutal man-hating novel. I haven't read the book and so I can't properly judge, but that was an interesting review.

Amistad didn't really stick to my ribs, for whatever reason, which is a disappointment. The horrors of this time in our history haven't really been realized on the screen. The only thing that I'm aware of that might come close is "Farewell, Uncle Tom", still unseen by me.

Slavery is often depicted as an obvious and simple evil, but something snapped in me when I was reading a "revisionist" I guess you would call it, history book.

There was this story about a slave who taught himself to read and was searching the newspapers for news about the war. His owner came in, prompting him to turn the paper upside down and exclaim to him something like "South has won the war". In the owner's journal he talks about the incident and describes servant in profoundly affectionate (and of course condescending) terms, calling him a "rascal". And that struck me as sort of a fascinating dynamic. Imagine the slaveowner believing that he loves and cares for his slaves, and the slave hating him all the same because no matter how good he is treated he is still a slave.

As for how I can still like War of the Worlds despite the overwhelming evidence, I regard it as being about chaos and disorder and so I am willing to accept the implausibilities. Maybe I can use the "dream logic" explanation, I somehow accepted that I wasn't watching a realistic movie.

Why does Jeffrey go and get the gun and climb back into the closet at the end of Blue Velvet instead of just high tailing it out of there? Good question, the only thing that we can offer is because the plot needs him too. And like War of the Worlds, everything in Blue Velvet is at mercy to the visuals.

The ending I don't accept as much as ignore. No way to defend it really. Actually, you know, it might have worked if the Martians didn't die from the micro-organisms and were still winning the war. That would of been hella sweet actually, the perfunctory happy ending would feel genuinely tinny then. Grandma and Grandpa made it through--but not for long.

Still, there we would still have that problem with the son. I mean seriously, what the fuck.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

ok.... i give up. i feel left out of speilberg love.

just wanna add about proof, math always sucks in movies. i know enough math, doing engineering, and it is probably the only subject i like in engineering. there is a visceral experience i get when i get the right answer in a math problem. a lot of it is being as creative with it as possible. Cut down on the steps and still get the same answer because the whole subject functions in a closed, definite world. it's beautiful. i never find any filmmaker capture that on film, maybe because they've never had that experience. well maybe "primer" which was a very beleivable film about how engineers function in that closed world and the pleasure they derive from it.

Walter_Chaw said...

Did Pi do it?

I have a thought about math in film in that it's as difficult to portray as the artistic process. You can show the rigor and the result, but not the inspiration. Exceptions? I can think of Rivers and Tides, the docu about Andy Goldsworthy - but they're few and far between.

Anonymous said...

Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land, dude.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Rivers and Tides was great. I liked his idea of ephemeral art.

Walter_Chaw said...

Interesting, H-Man, just the phrase "ephemeral art" made me think back on the original post with the E.T. board game and CE3K novelization. I remember reading the Aliens novelization by Alan Dean Foster in one sitting the night before I went to the flick and being disappointed that some scenes had been left out - there's also the fact that Arthur C. Clarke's novelization of 2001 was just that: written after the film came out to "explain" the movie to people wanting answers. He's since written at least three sequels - each of them worse than the last. One too many typhoons in Sri Lanka for poor Mr. Clarke, I fear. 'course I know you thought that back in the sixties.

For secular (in the trad/non-Alex sense) sci-fi, though, Clarke had an acid tongue once upon a time. His "The Star" short story touches on the idea of ephemera again in a really brilliant, really nasty way. The ultimate anti-Christmas story.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Hal Barwood, and poor Matthew Robbins (the latter the team behind one of my favorite 80s flicks, Dragonslayer)


First, hello.

Second, have you ever seen the 1985 bio-chemical horror flick Warning Sign, which both of these men wrote and Barwood made his directorial debut with? It should have been a nerve-frying experience, but it's riddled with far too much stupidity and unintentional laughs to take even remotely seriously. Still, it's one of my favorite bad films that manages to entertain the hell out of me, and in light of your appreciation for Dragonslayer I thought maybe you'd have been inclined to see it. Anchor Bay is putting out a special edition of it later this year, so hopefully you'll receive a copy to review.

Third, hope all is well.

Walter_Chaw said...

Hi Jack,

Yeah - I've seen Warning Sign - parts of it are actually really pretty good. Can't wait for the DVD release - I hear that Dean Cundey is going to have a hand in the video transfer which, by itself, should make the disc a must-own. A lot of the time, though, I think it falls prey to the Testament problem of being a touch too cheesy for its own good. Did I say "a touch"? I meant "a crippling wallop".

Besides, Yaphet Kotto's always worth a look.

Nice to see you, JS, hope all's well with you, too.