Currently, over at Dennis Cazzalio's Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, there is a discussion about the film 1941 going on. I have already taken the time to chime in with my own two cents and, given the fact that many people probably already know me to be a tremendously huge Steven Spielberg fan, my opinion of the film might surprise some. One of the things that I said, though, in response to Dennis’ post (along with a couple other people I noticed) is that I am "always in the mood for a discourse about Spielberg." However, for some reason it seems as if whenever I'm involved in one, I spend most of my time vehemently defending his “artistic status." As a hardcore "Spielbergian" I feel like I am almost always, by default, his constantly on-call apologist. I tend to feel that most of his films, and not just the more “serious” ones, aren’t given nearly the level of appreciation they deserve. As a showman people seem to love Spielberg but as an artist I think he is grossly undervalued.
Then, last night, I got an idea. I think I am going to attempt an experiment, an undertaking that has been burning inside of me for a very, very long time. It is going to be a rather monumental enterprise and it's very possible, even likely, that I'll get halfway through it and, very much like Spielberg himself did in the middle of shooting Jaws, say to myself: "Why on earth did I agree to do this? What have I gotten myself into?" Nevertheless, it’s just something that I feel I should do; in fact, I think it is probably long overdue. I’m calling it 31 Days of Spielberg and it’s going to look like this: I will view each and every available Spielberg film, write a corresponding piece about it and then post them here on my blog, one a day throughout the entire month of August (31 days, 31 posts). The plan will be to start with his earlier work and then go through each film chronologically all the way up to the present.
So, the schedule would end up looking something like this:
DAY 1: Prologue
DAY 2: Night Gallery – “Eyes”
DAY 3: Columbo: Murder By the Book
DAY 4: Duel
DAY 5: The Sugarland Express
DAY 6: Jaws
DAY 7: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
DAY 8: 1941
DAY 9: Raiders of the Lost Ark
DAY 10: Poltergeist
DAY 11: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
DAY 12: Twilight Zone: the Movie – “Kick the Can”
DAY 13: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
DAY 14: Amazing Stories – “Ghost Train” & "The Mission"
DAY 15: The Color Purple
DAY 16: Empire of the Sun
DAY 17: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
DAY 18: Always
DAY 19: Hook
DAY 20: Jurassic Park
DAY 21: Schindler’s List
DAY 22: The Lost World: Jurassic Park
DAY 23: Amistad
DAY 24: Saving Private Ryan
DAY 25: A.I.: Artifical Intelligence
DAY 26: Minority Report
DAY 27: Catch Me If You Can
DAY 28: The Terminal
DAY 29: War of the Worlds
DAY 30: Munich
DAY 31: Epilogue
I can already see people out there shaking their heads in bewilderment and disbelief, the biggest question looming in their forefront of their minds probably being: “WHY SPIELBERG? Out of all the possible filmmakers you could have chosen, why him? With so many wonderful, talented, lesser-known artists out there in desparate need of attention, why pick the most popular, most financially successful and, quite frankly, most talked about director on the planet to write about? Hasn’t more than enough ink already been spilled on this man? Haven’t we heard his name and seen his iconic images far too many times already? I mean, even if you wanted to focus a prominent director, rather than an obscure one, then why not do Kubrick, Welles, Capra, Hitchcock, Allen, Eastwood, Scorsese, DePalma, Altman, Truffaut, Bergman or Coppolla? Just anybody but Spielberg. Why Spielberg?"
Well, there are a few reasons why I’ve chosen Spielberg.
First of all, while I admire all of the great directors previously mentioned, the truth is quite simply that I prefer Spielberg. They say that a blog resembles the personality of its host, and my personality is such that I happen to like Spielberg. So, why shouldn't my blog reflect that? I also know more about Spielberg than I do any other filmmaker. My own personal regard for the man has caused me to study his life and work more than any other filmmaker. I know a little about a lot of directors, but I know a lot about this one particular director. Furthermore, since I’ve started blogging, it has not escaped my notice that my knowledge and understanding of cinema's history, language and aesthetics is grossly insufficient (as opposed to when I’m in the video store talking to customers and I feel like an encyclopedia). As much as I love being a part of the film blogosphere and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world, sometimes I feel terribly inadequate compared to some of my fellow cinephiles. I am not haughty or elitist enough to consider myself an extremely knowledgeable individual when it comes to movies, but I’d like to think I’m not completely ignorant of it. One comforting revelation to me was when I realized a while ago that when it comes to cinema you never completely “arrive,” you are a life-long student of film. So, I eventually accepted the fact that I will continue to learn about movies (and from movies) until the day I die. I learned from my friend Tucker (who opened my eyes to a whole world of films I had never been exposed to) in my first year in college that “I was an ‘expert’ in a subject that I really knew nothing about,” and everyday I am constantly being reminded of that fact. So, perhaps this is, in some ways, a bit of an “ego boost,” because this is a subject that I actually do know a lot about it. When it comes to Spielberg, I feel like I have something substantial to contribute to the conversation.
Finally, and this is probably the most important factor in my deciding to do the experiment, although it is true that a great deal has already been written about Spielberg, I tend to feel that a lot of the writing is spent focusing on the wrong things. I think Spielberg’s work, generally speaking, is not typically approached in the proper manner. Usually his movies are either addressed purely as entertainment (and consequently evaluated from that mindset) or are minutely dissected from a socio-political standpoint. On those rare occasions when they are analysed artistically, it’s usually from the perspective (unwarranted in my opinion) that they are sorely lacking; that their artistic merit is at best severely handicapped and at worst completely subverted by their commercial intent or desire to appeal to mass audiences. Obviously this is a contention that I do not agree with and I would like an opportunity to present my case for it. I just think this is the best way to do it: watch all the films and write a reaction to each one. This is not to say, of course, that I am going to give every movie a “free pass.” Not at all. I shall attempt, which as much honesty and integrity as I can muster, to give each movie as fair and objective critique as I possibly can. I can admit to being extremely biased in favor of Spielberg, but I can also concede that he possesses enormous weaknesses (particularly his tendency to over-dramatize emotions and wallow in sentimentality, a shortcoming that he himself has acknowledged) and that a number of his films are indeed highly flawed. Again, I’d like to think that I am not a "blind" Spielberg fan, but throughout my experiment I suspect I’m going to be more “open” to where his films are trying to take me than a lot of people are. I confess I am more pre-disposed to give him the benefit of the doubt whereas others might be more inclined, given his extreme level of popularity and success, to be harsher/stricter on him, but who knows? Maybe, throughout the course of all this, I'll become a more "balanced" Spielbergian and manage to find the middle ground.
I would also like to present this as a chance for others to share their own thoughts and opinions on his work. As I said before, I love talking about Spielberg and am always open to the opportunity to hear others do so as well. I would like to make it clear that anyone is welcome to join in and say whatever they like about Spielberg. Rest assured, I am not going to be monitoring the discussions with the intent of deleting anyone who disagrees with me. My only wish is that we can all remember to be polite, civil and respectful in our words. You do not have to temper your passion or emotions, whichever side you fall on. If you feel strongly about something, you are certainly more than welcome to express that, but my hope is that we can at least try to keep it from turning personal. I especially hope to hear from fellow Spielbergians Ted Pigeon and Matt Zoeller Seitz as well as perhaps some of the regular posters over at Spielbergfilms, a website that I have little doubt I'll make ample use of throughout the month of August in addition to reading, and in many cases re-reading, as many books on Spielberg that I can get my hands on (not to mention online interviews, DVD bonus features and other various sources of information).
I wish I could claim that there is something special about the month of August that makes it an especially suitable time to do this experiment, but alas there is not. There isn’t even anything singular about this particular year to make it a significant one in his life and/or career. There are no Spielberg films coming out soon (unfortunately) with which to mark this occasion. This just happens to be the time that this idea has come upon me and I wanted to do it as soon as possible before the summer ended (which I do think is appropriate given that Spielberg all but invented the phenomenon of the "summer blockbuster event" with Jaws), but not during the Filmmusic Blog-a-thon (which will no doubt keep me extremely busy) and after the month of July because that's when I take the first real vacation I've had in a very long time. Besides, I am going to need the time in advance to re-watch all of Spielberg’s films and compose something about each one. For the most part, this is a prospect I am looking forward to, especially for the films which I’ve seen only once (Amistad, Color Purple, A.I., Lost World and Sugarland Express). There are of course the films I never, ever tire of watching (Raiders, E.T. and Jaws) and the films that I truly treasure (Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan). It also means, unfortunately, that I have to sit through 1941 again (which I swore I’d never do), but I guess that’s life, isn’t it?
As the list indicates, I shall restrict myself (with the notable exception of Poltergeist for reasons I will get into later) to viewing only the films that Spielberg has directed. I don’t plan to examine the films that Spielberg has produced and/or executive-produced (Gremlins, Back to the Future, The Goonies, etc). Nor is my intent to discuss Spielberg the entrepeneur or Spielberg the studio head/executive. I want to focus on Spielberg the filmmaker. To watch the movies that bear his name (and not in the manner of “Steven Spielberg Presents,” but in the manner of “A Film by Steven Spielberg” or “A Steven Spielberg Film”). I will also, as much as I can, try to refrain from doing a “biography” of Spielberg. Though I know I will not be able to avoid discussing his personal life in some of my reviews (since I already know it informs a great deal of his work), I shall try to limit the degree to which I do so and only insofar as it applies to his professional career. It is for this reason that I have chosen to view the films in chronological order because I think Spielberg’s work can only be best appreciated in the context of where he (and the culture) was at the time. His career has been, at the very least, a unique journey and the changes he has undergone (not to mention we have undergone) are reflected in the work and in people’s reactions to them. I should prove to be a very stimulating, provocative and hopefully enlightening endeavor for all of us, not least of all myself.
There’s no telling what I’m going to look/sound like on the other side of this thing. By the end of it all I may be so over-saturated in “Spielberg-ness” that I am sick to death of his movies and never want to watch another one again. Then again, by immersing myself in his work, I may develop an even deeper respect for his gifts than I ever had before. I don’t know. At the very least, I hope that when all is said and done, I will have gotten most (if not all) of what I think and feel about Spielberg out of my system and will then finally be able to move onto other great directors of whom I can conduct an in-depth study. I may even find that I so enjoy experiencing a filmmaker's work (and then writing about it) in this manner that I decide to do at least one of these a year, always on a different artist. In the meantime, this is what I need to do for right now. So, if you happen to love Spielberg, hate him or are just indifferent to him, feel free to stop by Windmills during the month of August for my own private film-blogging experiment 31 Days of Spielberg.