In Defense Of Spielberg
January 30, 2012 12 Comments
This piece by (not the Rolling-Stone, I assume) Bill Wyman on Steven Spielberg is a strange one. Not that I am the biggest Spielberg fan as such in the world, and it’s not like I have any intent to ever see War Horse, but it just seems stubborn and weird to deny that he has made several great movies, which is more great movies than almost all movie directors have made. In that light Wyman’s criticisms just seem to be trying too hard; is the idea to make a name for himself by cornering the market in ‘brave’ Spielberg contrarianism?
For example there is an extended riff on certain tropes that appear in more than one Spielberg movie: sudden crowd scenes, clotheslines with sheets blowing in the wind, lens flares, faces looking up agape. Well okay to all that, but is this not mostly a function of Spielberg just having made a heck of a lot of movies? You can’t so easily identify the ‘tropes’ of someone who’s made like 2 movies. A bad director doesn’t stick around long enough to generate identifiable ‘tropes’. And the razor isn’t even applied consistently: elsewhere Wyman appears to praise – as if by contrast – Kubrick, Scorsese, David Lynch. Not to take away anything from any of those guys, but you’d be hard pressed to think of three directors as prolific and whose visual and directorial style and themes repeat themselves more or vary less, from film to film – i.e. is full of and relies on ‘tropes’ – than those three. (The only worse ‘offender’ that comes to mind is Wes Anderson, but he’s really only made about 5 movies.) But they get a pass, because they’re ‘great directors’.
Wyman points out that Spielberg had some misfires (1941, Always), so of course he sucks. Those other directors apparently had no misfires or interesting failures, which I guess means I need to re-watch classics like Shutter Island and Inland Empire. Similarly, much as I kinda admired Baz Lurhmann’s cheesy, all-over-the-place new-age Western Australia, to praise how it ‘wove the threads of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz’ at the same time as trashing Empire Of The Sun for being ‘schlock’ just demonstrates no sense of proportion. Wyman’s complaint that some of Spielberg’s movies don’t have big stars is just weird. Or was Griffin Dunne [sic], the lead in Scorsese’s (great, non-misfire?) After Hours like one of the biggest stars of the ’80s without me realizing it?
Ultimately maybe the problem here is just that Wyman was tired:
But that noble and humanist worldview starts to feel thin when you watch all those movies in a row.
Note to self: never sit down and try to watch every single movie made by a director who’s made like 30+ movies “in a row”. It might make me grumpy, petty, and dumb.