Film Directors with their Shirts Off #4

Number Four in an occasional series.


Sugary snack Steven Spielberg. Just add water.

21 Responses to “Film Directors with their Shirts Off #4”

  1. It was a simpler time.

  2. So that’s Spielberg. At first glance I thought it was Andy Dick.

  3. Spieberg has enjoyed a highly singular Hollywood career. Can you imagine directing Joan Crawford when you’re 18 year’s-old? After that the shark was a walk in the park.

    I first met him right ater I came to town. I was interviewing John Milius and he burst into the office, full of enthusiasm, telling some wild story or other to Milius. It was easy to see right then and there what made him tick and why someone so young was put in charge of things. Needless to say his career has been all over the map. Of his massive entertainments I quite enjoyed E.T.. But the Spielbergs I really love are his maudits : 1941 and A.I.

  4. I recall liking Empire of the Sun when I saw it many years ago, in no small part because of John Malkovich. What surprises the hell out of me was that this film, made in 1987, also stars Christian Bale, Joe Pantoliano and Ben Stiller(!). I’m going to have to revisit it soon.

  5. It’s Spielberg’s David Lean movie, and quite interesting to run alongside Laurence of Arabia to see what he’s swiped. Spielberg’s a massive Lean fan, and did try to help Lean make Nostromo, although Lean eventually went off him after receiving unwelcome script advice.

    I think it’s more or less established that Spielberg lied about his age, which allowed him to enhance his wunderkind image and also escape from an early contract. I’d really like to see Amblin’, the film that got him started.

  6. I think ”Empire of the Sun” is a terrific film. And the influences are not limited to Lean, there’s also Kurosawa, George Stevens, Ford. It’s also despite his recent star status, Christian Bale’s best performance. I like Spielberg, I know that’s controversial but I like a lot of his films. His 90′ films about the Second World War are really not his thing(though the first 40mns of “private ryan” is really something as cinema). And ”Duel” and ”The Sugarland Express” are also great. And I’m probably in a minority when I say I liked ”Munich” immensely. Don’t care for the recent Indiana Jones film though. His ”Catch Me If You Can” is also charming. And he made Tom Cruise bearable for at least the first half of ”Minority Report” a pretty good achievement. Thankfully Max von Sydow takes centre stage in Act 2. ‘Course ”AI” which is also set in the future is much better.

    Spielberg only passed a year younger which actually has a rich Hollywood tradition of people lying about their ages. It’s still impressive that he made “Duel”(for TV!!!) on a really low budget at that age.

    ”Nostromo” is really a great missed-opportunity as a film by Lean, though I don’t think it would have been great Conrad as much as great Lean. Martin Scorsese says that if he has the time and his present slate of dream projects is clean, he’d like to do it. And I hope that comes to pass.

  7. Michael Powell thought a film of “Nostromo” was a “ridiculous” idea in that the book was “impossible. And of course that’s why David wants to make a film out of it.”

    Empire of the Sun is on a technical level quite splendid. But Spielberg doesn’t understand Ballard at all. He seems to think he’s making a Great Boy’s Adventure whereas Ballard makes it clear that “Jim” ( a scathing self-portrait) is a little creep.

    Also Spielberg got rid of the gay stuff.

  8. I also loved “Munich”. It seemed to the first Spielberg film to go beyond a kind of “here’s good news, oh wait no its BAD news – oh no it’s GOOD news – or is it BAD? HA!” narrative and entertain instead the idea that there exists some situations that are simultaneously uplifting and horrific, and therefore completely insoluble.

  9. I still have Munich “lined up” to watch. I will run it, especially for the man Lonsdale. For me, pretty well every Spielberg film of the past fifteen years has overshot its ending by a mile. Maybe I should elaborate on this, since I don’t know of a good online source that points out where the movies all go wrong. But maybe it’s just something we all KNOW.

    Lean seems to have spent ages adapting books he didn’t really care about — A Passage to India meant very little to him as a novel, and he expressed a certain indifference to the original Conrad.

    The most Ballardian bit in Empire is the scene where Bale simultaneously spies on Miranda Richardson and her husband making love, and a bombing raid outside — the Ballard connection between sexuality and mechanical destruction is formed!

  10. Well I never read the book. Mr. Ballard is on record for liking it though. I actually did find that kid not as cute as he’s made out to be. Much of the film is very stylized and subjective and it’s not as simple as it’s made out.

    Adapting Conrad is always difficult. It’s so self-reflective. For instance, Hitchcock’s ”Sabotage” which was based on ”The Secret Agent” was a great film because Hitchcock simply substituted himself for Conrad. Smart man, although I have to say Oscar Homolka and Sylvia Sidney ARE the Verlocs.

    With Lean, the problem is that his films for all their visual splendour are narratively quite classical and even theatrical in the dramaturgy. His Dickens films are essentially adaptations of plays adapted from the books rather than the books itself. So maybe ”Nostromo” would interest Lean because it touches on themes of imperialism and adventure and that would show up in the film which would have a linear narrative as opposed to the one in the book.

    His ”Ryan’s Daughter”, a remarkable film shows that he can use environment to convey a character’s interior feelings and in that strange daydream of Mitchum’s character on the beach he found a way of conveying interior thoughts visually. But even then the structure of the film is classically tragic and even if the film is shot in Ireland and uses non-professional Irish they’re as vivid as backdrops on stage.

  11. Ballard has an acting role in the Spielberg. But the best Ballard film is of course Cronenberg’s Crash.

  12. The ending of ”Munich” is, as they say, a doozy. But the very last scene is quite good. It’s not a perfect film but it’s sincere and well made, and visually quite stunning. John Williams’ score however isn’t one of his best and the film could have done better with little or no music. The cast is pretty good.

    Spielberg’s tendency with endings is quite well known and fairly well deserved, though off-the-mark vis-a-vis A.I. which is a beautifully sad ending.

    ”A Passage to India” is a really disappointing way to end a career. ”Ryan’s Daughter”, a very personal film would have been much better. Forster never wanted anyone to adapt it because he didn’t like cinema. Satyajit Ray loved the book and pitched the film to Forster himself but he turned him down. Ray would have been the right person for that.

  13. “Music can’t do anything but hurt a realistic film,” my friend Lawrie told me, after suffering through The Insider.

    Lean ALWAYS uses nature to evoke interior states — a great one is the start of Oliver Twist, where thorny branches bending in the wind evoke Oliver’s mother’s birth pains. That’s why Lean is celebrated for his landscape films, because the landscapes are actually interior. The best bit in Pasage to India is the monkey-infested temple which vividly brings to the surface the sexual and racial panic of the heroine. Too bad about Jarre’s confused and indifferent scoring, which all but wrecks the sequence.

  14. I think the best bit is when he cut from Miss Quested inside the cave to the shot of a water trough overflowing — clearly indicating that Miss Quested has had an orgasm.

  15. Oh yeah! Again, the elements represent an interior emotional experience.

    I also quite like the big scary shots of the moon, which do kind of convey the novel’s sense of a vast, frightening power.

  16. Sorry about the terrible grammar in that last post. Rewrite syndrome. Apparently last night’s moon was the biggest in fifteen years.

  17. Maurice Jarre is a strange cookie. He went back-and-forth between Georges Franju and David Lean. How did he work that out? His score for ”Eyes Without A Face” is really special and subtle while it’s appropriately bombastic for ”Lawrence of Arabia” but then he overdoes it in the next two films, to nearly ruinous effect in ”Ryan’s Daughter”.

    One interesting bit of Lean’s use of landscape is in ”Hobson’s Choice” during Hobson’s drunk scene and the camera follows the moon in the puddle. Wonderfully done.

  18. Nice bit with wind blowing the giant boot sign at the start of Hobson’s as well. Lean uses wind FX as much as Fellini, if not more.

    A soundtrack enthusiast friend said he went off Jarre when J-M J started “playing with his son’s toys”, although I agree with you that the problem predates synthesisers. If it’s obvious to us that Jarre went off the boil somewhat, but why didn’t Lean notice?

  19. Paul Nagi Says:

    Maurice Jarre’s score for Ryan’s Daughter is one of the most
    beautiful and under appreciated scores in film history.It is very
    romantic,subtle,and beautifully played,It is one of my favorites of
    all time.


  20. Well, I can’t really agree, but I’m glad you enjoy it.

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