Escapism: The Spielberg Effect

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There are master storytellers. There are brilliant filmmakers. But none can compare to Steven Spielberg in terms of authentic storytelling to create pure movie magic, in such an approachable way.

For me, there were three Spielberg films that shaped my childhood. During my early years we dealt with many of life’s struggles often due to poverty, but our single-parent mom battled even tougher struggles with breast cancer. It was during these years of hardship, that I found a companion for the ultimate escape via the movies. Steven Spielberg created his vision of cinematic storytelling with his own unique camera style and his instinct of character development in way that allowed us to escape to magical places yet at the same time made us feel very much at home. It was the Spielberg effect.

JAWS (1975)

JAWS was a breakthrough film for Steven Spielberg and the experience had a lasting affect on us too. This movie, despite all the woes the mechanical toothy beast gave this director, was still able to scare the heebie-jeebies out of us. Hell, I couldn’t even go near the deep end of a public pool in the later half of the 70’s without some irrational concern of a potential ‘Great White’ lurking about. Besides utilizing a slowly building tension to thrill and terrorize us like only the best master filmmakers of suspense thrillers do, he added a few other tricks to pull us into the story.

He really developed these characters, from the main stars to the supporting cast. He did so in way that made us not only genuinely care for these folks with their flaws and all (Like Brody, Hooper, and Quint) but in a style via little, real moments in which we made a connection.  One of my favorite examples of this can be found after Sheriff Brody has had a very bad day…

He sits at the family dinner table, completely absorbed in the stresses and frustrations of that day’s struggles. His wife floats in and out but mostly remains in the kitchen. His plate of food lays in front of him untouched. He takes a drink from his glass and his young son drinks his milk at the exact same time, watching every move his father makes. Deep in thought, Brody expresses silent anguish by covering his face with his hands. He moves his flat fingers, covering his eyes at first then moving downward to cover his mouth. His son is copying every detailed move in careful unison without his father’s awareness. Just before Brody starts to pull his hands from his face, he looks across the table to see his son’s mirrored performance for the first time. He watches his son’s tiny fingers do the same as he crosses his fingers into a slow clasp. He gives his son a playful snarl expression; in return the son wriggles up his face and clinches his small hands into claw-like display. The sheriff leans in, close up to his small son’s face and tiredly requests: “Come here. Give us a kiss.”  The boy innocently asks: “why?” His father responds, “because I need it.”

The scene is real, it’s family, it’s sweet and it’s very relatable. Yet most filmmakers would find it completely unnecessary. Many directors wouldn’t bother to take the time this scene took. But that’s exactly why it works so damn well. We understand this poignant little moment. It feels real to us. Now we are fully invested in these characters.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)

Escapism and movie magic is vibrantly alive in this film. It felt like the first time mass audiences were shown a transition from ‘aliens are scary attackers’ to an obsession of curiosity reflecting a positive, if not rather cute, view as friendly, celestial travelers. And we make this transition during the film itself. Many alien subject films prior to this point were often campy SciFi B movies- some the direct result of a post WW2 Cold War fearful state of mind. In the beginning of CEOTTK, we continue this fear of the unknown as the alien interactions are presented as a series of scary encounters and abductions. By the end of the film, we are thoroughly charmed by the aliens and our curiosity transitions from an obsessive fear to a desire to explore the galaxy as their traveling companion in a grand once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

But here again it’s the combination of this ‘let’s escape to a mysterious world via movie magic’ along with his masterful ability to develop characters we ‘get’ in tender detail. Case in point, we see Richard Dreyfuss return once more as a main character. This time Dreyfuss is Roy- a family man, just working his way through the routines of an unfulfilling life. He’s a blue collar working man, an every-man; trying to pay the bills while quietly seeking some peace with his chaotic family life.

In comparison, Roy’s family life is not as supportive and loving as Brody’s in JAWS yet it’s just as real and relatable. This family is more chaotic, noisy, bickering and frankly, rather untidy. And let’s face it, real life IS messy and many American families related to this family view, too. And again we return to the family dinner table. There’s a pivotal scene as an atypical hush takes over the family dinner as his wife (portrayed by Teri Garr) and his kids observe another bizarre behavior displayed via their father’s copious pile of mashed potatoes. Dreyfuss is overly focused on building a potato mountain on his dinner plate when he suddenly looks up to notice the unusual stillness of the room with worried faces staring. He covers his face with his hand and softly weeps. He tries to break the tension with a slight, forced chuckle and says: “Well, I guess you’ve all noticed something’s a little strange with Dad. It’s okay though. I’m still Dad. I can’t describe what I’m feeling…”

This father figure is shown as more flawed and vulnerable this time and this family is less willing to accept his vulnerability and his departure of conforming to the norm. In the end, the family abandons him and he never returns to his wife and children, rather opting for a life of adventure and unique purpose. After becoming a father himself years later, Spielberg said he regretted concluding the story with the father figure choosing to leave his children. As unconventional as that must have been as movie formulas go, it didn’t hurt Spielberg any at the box office. And I believe it was another example of relatable realism of what so many American families were dealing with in their own lives in the late seventies, just as divorce rates were making an unprecedented rise for the first time in history.

INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

Spielberg wanted to create an action-packed adventure, featuring a charismatic hero  that was inspired by the serials he recalled from his youth. Spielberg continued his passion for inventing pure movie magic with one of his most adventurous and unforgettable characters to date. In a departure from his last two hits with JAWS and CEOTTK, this film focused almost entirely on action, adventure and even a little old-fashioned romance, too.

There was much less focus on the ‘relatable realism’ to feel a connection here. Yet because the main characters of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) are off-the-charts charming in their chemistry, we desire to be connected- we wish we were those characters. Jones is not a cookie-cutter nor a flawless type of hero. He has his ordinary weaknesses (like fear of snakes) and much of his average guy ways can be found in facial expressions during conflicts. He doesn’t take time for vanity nor accolades. He’s just an academic geek obsessed with archeology who happens to find himself in these troublesome spots and we assume he’s learned to develop great skill in action to serve his purpose well. With every close call it’s though he almost lucks his way out of every dire situation.

Marion is the feisty, put-up-with-nobody’s malarkey gal that I personally felt a connection. She has a tough side and a sweetly feminine side, too. She does whatever it takes to get the job done and she’s willing and able to come along for the journey, as bumpy of a ride as it may be. Just like Jones, she’s not out for the glory, she’s a survivor.

In all this constant action, Spielberg does take a break for a “quiet little moment” scene with these appealing characters. After suffering multiple injuries, the two find themselves en route in a room on a boat. He’s in terrible pain (partly due to Marion herself whacking him with a mirror) as he attempts to take off his shirt. Marion energetically tries to help him but he winces in pain. She then sweetly kisses him on the elbow when he claims that’s the only spot “where it doesn’t hurt”. He then points to his forehead and another place on his face, each time Marion gently placing a kiss. Finally he points to his lips. After a passionate kiss, Jones promptly falls asleep in complete exhaustion. It’s yet another example of Spielberg taking his time to include a very human, tiny exchange with his well-developed characters.

In the summer of 1981, after five years of struggle, my mother lost her battle with cancer and we moved back to Kansas City to live with family. Many of the tiny character moments via these Spielberg films, I felt a connection in some piece of my life. And with every magical journey Spielberg took us on via these films, I was happy to escape. I felt at home with this cinematic traveling companion.

*This post is part of the SPIELBERG BLOGATHON hosted by IT RAINS… YOU GET WET, CITIZEN SCREEN and yours truly taking place Aug 22-23. Please visit these blog host sites for a full list of participating blogs.

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The Spielberg Blogathon Weekend… They’re HERE!!

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The time has arrived to join in on the celebration! He is not only one of the most influential filmmakers in film history, but an honest to goodness film fan.  In that spirit, Michael of It Rains…You Get Wet , Aurora of Citizen Screenings and I celebrate the films of Steven Spielberg by way of the SPIELBERG BLOGATHON this weekend.

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The plan is that I will host all Saturday entries on Outspoken & Freckled and Michael will take over hosting duties for Sunday on It Rains…You Get Wet.  As for Aurora, she says… “I’ll be right here” (like writing up this promo post), helping with promotions on social media throughout the weekend.

Following is the list of participants and their chosen topic/film.  You’ll note the entries span Steven Spielberg’s impressive career and exhibit the kind of enthusiasm the director himself injects in his work.  Astounding talent aside, Steven Spielberg speaks to us directly through his movies.  Here’s the proof – enjoy!

JAWS (1975) ~ Kris Kringle for Outspoken & Freckled

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ~ Rob Medaska for Citizen Screenings

“Amazing Stories” THE MISSION, tv episode (11/1985) ~ It Rains… You Get Wet

“Night Gallery” EYES, tv episode (1969) ~  It Rains… You Get Wet

MINORITY REPORT (2002) & THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011) ~ Movie Rob

JURASSIC PARK (1993) – Citizen Screenings

DUEL (1971)~ Blog of the Darned

“Columbo” MURDER BY THE BOOK, tv episode ~ Twenty Four Frames

JAWS (1975) ~ Prowler Needs A Jump 

MUNICH (2005) ~ The Joy and Agony of Movies

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) ~ Screenkicker!

AMISTAD (1997) ~ Seetimaar- Diary of a Movie Lover

EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987) – Critica Retro

DUEL (1971) – Blog of the Damned

Why we need Indiana Jones 5 – with or without Harrison Ford – By Director Steven Spielberg

Comparison of Spielberg’s Sci-Fi Films – Cindy Bruchman

SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) – The Soul of the Plot

Spielberg’s Actors – Kirkham A Movie a Day

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND’s UFOology – In the Comfy Chair

Escapism: The Spielberg Effect – Outspoken & Freckled

HOOK (1991) – Margaret Perry

TINTIN (2011) – Fights, Tights and Movie Nights 

My Top 10 Favorite Spielberg-Directed Films – Flixchatter

“You shouldn’t dream your film, you should make it!” – Steven Spielberg

 

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Jaws- The Smell, The Speech, and the Fair Spanish Ladies

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“This post is part of the SPIELBERG BLOGATHON hosted by Outspoken & FreckledIt Rains… You Get Wet, and Citizen Screenings taking place August 23-24. Please visit these host blogs for a full list of participating blogs.”

I’ve always had vivid memories of my early years. The first time I saw Jaws was at a drive in in the back seat of my parents’ station wagon. I know… back then my parents took me to every movie, regardless of its inappropriateness (by today’s standards). There was Valley of the Dolls at the drive in (when I was 3), which made me fear bathtubs and haunting music. It’s the very first movie I remember seeing. Then there was The Godfather (when I was 7). It made me fear tollbooths… and I’d laydown near the floorboards of our station wagon whenever we passed one for months afterwards. And Jaws (I was 9) made me fear swimming, or dangling my feet off the dock in murky lake water.

All I can say is, thank you mom and dad, and thank you Spielberg, because you scared the crap out of me in the way that I still treasure to this day.

As a movie, Jaws has it all. It’s the perfect blend of adventure, pacing, terror, and heroics. Its main cast is a set of character archetypes I’ve yet to see matched, with Chief Brody as the “everyman hero”, Hooper as the “sage/explorer”, and Quint as the salty, seafaring “outlaw.”

You want strong writing, you got it. Editing, it’s there. Emotional moments that hit you in the stomach, yup. Btw, I still cringe every time Mrs. Kintner asks Chief Brody if he knew there was a shark out there, have an “aww moment” when the Chief’s boy mimics his dad’s body language as he mulls over the situation he’s facing, and feel despair when Quint meets his toothy end.

There is really so much I love about this movie, but wanted to call out a few things stand out to me that ingrained the movie in my mind from an early age, and have continued to give me so much pleasure over the years. I’ll sum it up as the smell, the speech, and inference.

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The Smell

Few movies have more to work with than sight and sound, but I’d swear Spielberg has a knack for activating the sense of smell through the big screen. You can practically smell the milky, acidic stomach fluid that seeps from the shark that Hooper cuts open to check for remains, or the steam cloud coming off the shark jaws Quint boiling clean in his shop, or the sun-ripened chum Chief Brody throws off the stern, or the black oily smoke belching from the engine. I swear, of any director, Spielberg came the closest to inventing Smell-o-vision of any director.

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 The Speech

Much as been said over the years of the scene where Quint and Hooper go head to head in a “scar off” in the galley of the Orca…each trying to outdo each other with tales of their brushes with danger. So I won’t go into that. I just want call out the Quint’s Indianapolis speech in particular. Born of the work of screenwriter Howard Sackler, elaborated on by John Milius, and edited down and finessed by Robert Shaw, the Indianapolis speech grabs you by the throat with an amazingly emotional, toothy bite.

Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin’ back, from the island of Tinian to Leyte, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know, you know that when you’re in the water, chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. Well, we didn’t know. `Cause our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it’s kinda like `ol squares in battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark nearest man and then he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin’ and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’ they all come in and rip you to pieces. Y’know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I don’t know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin’ chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, bosom’s mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He’d a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

The powerful, yet understated, manner in which Robert Shaw delivered those words is my favorite delivery of all time, in any movie.

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The Fair Spanish Ladies

I leave you with my favorite part of the movie…one that occurs at the start of the third act, when Hooper and Quint are talking about the shark cage that he’s bringing aboard. Something about the way Quint queries Hooper on what he’s intending, on what he’s going to do with the cage, reminds me of my dad. As a teenager, whenever I was about to embark on some adventure where I’d not fully planned out my actions (which was about everyday) my dad would ask me a series of questions that, more often than not, would cause me to think about what I was planning…without blatantly calling me an idiot.

Quint: [seeing Hooper’s equipment] What are you? Some kind of half-assed astronaut?

[examining the shark cage]

Quint: Jesus H Christ, when I was a boy, every little squirt wanted to be a harpooner or a sword fisherman. What d’ya have there – a portable shower or a monkey cage?

Hooper: Anti-Shark cage.

Quint: Anti-shark cage. You go inside the cage?

[Hooper nods]

Quint: Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark.

[sings]

Quint: Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.

 

To this day I respect anyone who can call me an idiot to my face in such a clever fashion. It’s how we learn, and keep from being eaten by a great white.

Farewell and adieu to you, classic movie fans. Thanks for letting me participate in the Spielberg Blogathon, even though I don’t have a site of my own.

…Santa

*Kris Kringle is a guest blogger who is known for his clever tweets (aka @santaisthinking ), describing daily life while encouraging elves to make toys, otherwise he’s better known as the husband to this site’s host.

the SPIELBERG BLOGATHON

For many, August signals the ending of summer. One of the fun ways this August celebrates summer is via sharks, sharks and more sharks. Sharknadoes came back with a sequel vengeance when “Sharknado 2” aired on SyFy channel recently and became a national, albeit majorly campy, phenomena. August 10th, Discovery Channel returns in it’s 27th season of the very popular “Shark Week” and “JAWS Week” just completed it’s swim on AMC Channel. With all this shark action on the little screen, one can’t help but consider how much Steven Spielberg kicked off a firestorm and created a national fascination due to his film JAWS (1975).

Not his first film and hardly his last, mega hit JAWS (1975) was just the beginning for Spielberg. Taking on everything from aliens, adventure-seeking archeologists, battlefields in WW2 to the Holocaust, director/producer/writer Steven Spielberg has become an American institution via the silver screen. According to imbd he has directed over 52 films and produced over 144 and continues his constant pace today. A prolific filmmaker to be certain. But more importantly, so many of his films became part of our American experience- thanks to his signature style of weaving in very heartfelt and little “real” moments into every film. With so many wonderful Spielberg offerings, why not bid adieu to summer with a SPIELBERG BLOGATHON?

So Michael of IT RAINS… YOU GET WET aka @le0pard13, Aurora of CITIZEN SCREENINGS aka @citizenscreen and I, Kellee of OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED aka @IrishJayhawk66, are paying homage to this beloved master of cinema with a blockbuster blogathon to end the summer with a BANG!

Here’s how it works:

For any folks who wish to submit one or more blog posts dedicated to Steven Spielberg’s career (film/TV/directing/producing/writing, etc.) particular work or life, simply contact one of us hosts…

Kellee of OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED ~ twitter @IrishJayhawk66 ~ prattkellee @ gmail [dot] com

Michael of IT RAINS… YOU GET WET ~ twitter @le0pard13

Aurora of CITIZEN SCREENINGS ~ twitter @CitizenScreen

We kindly ask that you do the following:

-leave us a blog comment or tweet us with your Spielberg topic

-provide us with your blog name & url, twitter handle if you have one plus contact info

-let us know when your entry is published (hopefully prior to 8/23-24) so we can promote it

-please post only new content- readers’ greatly appreciate fresh posts! (recycling old material is better for consumer goods)

-include one of the provided banners (see below) and the following statement…

“This post is part of the SPIELBERG BLOGATHON hosted by Outspoken & Freckled, It Rains… You Get Wet, and Citizen Screenings taking place August 23-24. Please visit these host blogs for a full list of participating blogs.”

[Hashtag #SpielbergBlogathon]

BANNERS:

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PARTICIPATING BLOGS:

JAWS (1975) ~ Outspoken & Freckled

INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ~ Citizen Screenings

“Amazing Stories” THE MISSION, tv episode (11/1985) ~ It Rains… You Get Wet

“Night Gallery” EYES, tv episode (1969) ~  It Rains… You Get Wet

MINORITY REPORT (2002)/ THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011) ~ Movie Rob

DUEL (1971)~ Blog of the Darned

“Columbo” MURDER BY THE BOO, tv episode ~ Twenty Four Frames

JAWS (1975) ~ Prowler Needs A Jump 

MUNICH (2005) ~ The Joy and Agony of Movies

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) ~ Screenkicker!

AMISTAD (1997) ~ Seetimaar- Diary of a Movie Lover

EMPIRE OF THE SUN ~ Critica Retro

WHY WE NEED INDIANA JONES 5- WITH OR WITHOUT HARRISON FORD ~ From Director Steven Spielberg

COMPARISON OF SPIELBERG’S SCI-FI FILMS ~ Cindy Bruchman.com

SUGARLAND EXPRESS ~ The Soul of the Plot

JURASSIC PARK ~ Citizen Screenings

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ~ Rob Medaska, guest author on Citizen Screenings

SPIELBERG’S ACTORS ~ Kirkham A Movie A Day


keepsake
“Before I go off and direct a movie I always look at 4 films. They tend to be “SEVEN SAMURAI” (1954), LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), and THE SEARCHERS (1956).” … Steven Spielberg

photo*As a special treat, we are giving away a fun gift… a JAWS 2014 Hallmark keepsake ornament ~ with the unforgettable John Williams theme sound effects!  All participating bloggers will be automatically entered into the drawing. Sadly, only people living in the domestic United States are qualified to win(apologies to our friends living in Hawaii, Alaska or outside of the U.S. ) Winner will be randomly selected, announced following the blogathon event, then contacted to so we can ship directly.

HAPPY  BLOGGING!

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