Mar 9, 2012

Close Encounters of the Auteurist Kind

"What’s fascinating about Spielberg’s early shorts (judging both from descriptions of them and from clips that have been posted, appropriately, on YouTube) is that they are utterly derivative of the pop culture that he had been consuming. They’re amazingly precocious genre films, made by someone who, though still a minor, could have walked onto the set of a TV series and done, at least for some shots, a creditable and even an impressive job of duplicating the old hands’ results. He wasn’t spoofing or subverting genre filmmaking; he was expressing the id-free side of what was on his mind: the movies he loved and the kinds of emotions he got from them. It’s the most impersonal sort of personal filmmaking. He was, in effect, America’s oldest young filmmaker." — Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Leave aside the rather Anton Ego-ish asymmetry of judging a 17-year-old's film "utterly derivative" the judgment also happens to be wrong. I haven't seen the entirety of Firelight but even from the short segment Brody posts certain preoccupations of the young Spielberg, both thematically and stylistically, are immediately apparent. The dawning recognition on the faces of his onlookers; the emotional progress from fear and horror to enraptured, wordless fascination; the rear-view mirror shot, which appears in every Spielberg film; the presentation of his extra terrestrial visitors as a pure light source, as bright and haloed as Milton's God, or Tinkerbell; the suburban setting, and the final landing place of the UFO, amid the toys of a playing child. It's hard to know what else Spielberg could have done, besides commissioning a five-note John Williams theme, or give an entrance to a T Rex, before someone criticized him from the opposite flank for being too self-parodically Spielbergian. Faces, music, light, toys, children: if you can't see Spielberg in that lot then you haven't been watching closely enough.

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