The Complete Collection: Steven Spielberg (Part 1)


“A lot of the films I’ve made probably could have worked just as well 50 years ago, and that’s just because I have a lot of old-fashion values.” – Steven Spielberg

As heard recently on the podcast, I have attempted to fill in all the blanks of my Steven-Spielberg-knowledge and I am now, pretty much, there. Its been a long haul and, initially, I attempted to watch all the films chronologically and failed. I got as far as E.T. and, having seen E.T. so many times, I simply stalled and did not move on.

Spielberg, in the first instance, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to a Jewish family. Its crazy to think that even, at a very young age, Spielberg was making 8mm films and even charged visitors to the family home whilst his sister made popcorn. A business-man as much as a filmmaker even then! At age 13, he won an award for a forty-minute short film and then at age 16, he made his first feature (Can you believe it? 16 years old!), 140-minute film called Firelight (1964). His parents divorced at a young-age – something that influences his work – and, following this, he moved to California with his Dad.

It seems ridiculous, but Spielberg was unsuccessful with getting onto a course at USC, but finally managed to get on a course at California State University. This is where it all began – as Spielberg created a 24-minute short Amblin’ (1968) which was seen by a studio-producer who, employing Spielberg at the tender age of 22/23 and Spielberg dropped out of Uni in ’69, to begin a contract for a television company and, thus, following some TV work he directed his first feature, for TV, based on a Robert Matheson (writer of I Am Legend amongst other novels…) book…

Duel (1971)
It is interesting to watch this as an ‘early-Spielberg’, especially considering his future films. Such a simple story (as Scott in 10 seconds, said on Frankly, My Dear podcast recently)- a truck trying to kill a guy (Dennis Weaver) in a car. Nothing else really to it – no family revealed of the guy in the car, the driver of the truck is never revealed. The majority of the film is set on dusty, long roads and, in the few instances where there are other characters, we rarely trust them. A film that was primarily about pace and tension, Spielberg clearly learnt a lot. Even the truck had small details that gave it a certain character – specific number plates all over the grill to signify the ‘kills’ it has accumulated in the past.

Sarah absolutely adores this film, and when I watched it – for the first time only recently – I realised how something so simple requires the full control of the director. He slowly builds up a tension that simply couldn’t be done by someone more amateur – its a truck, nothing more, but it scares you so much. Even at this starting point, Spielberg’s skill is clear – character and detail never forgotton, tension, pace and entertaiment. A perfect example of a film with little depth (could you argue it is the industrial world attacking the working man? robots taking the jobs of the working man? Hmm), simply an enjoyable ride from beginning to end.

The truck is currently in North Carolina and, for the Incredible Hulk fans, some footage from the film was used in the TV series, in an episode called Never Give a Trucker an Even Break. Nothing illegal there – as Universal owned full-rights to the footage.

The Sugarland Express (1974)
Having shown great promise with TV-film (released theatrically in Europe) and Spielberg moves onto his first feature-length theatrical film, The Sugarland Express. I covered this in one of my first posts on this blog, so I have copied the information from that post about the Spielberg trends established:

“The film shows a classic Spielberg-shot (no, not the zoom-in in ‘Jaws’ that Hitchcock used on ‘Vertigo’), but the ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ shot of police cars on the horizon distorting under the heat and slowly coming into focus. These cinematic treats are littered throughout the movie showing how, even at this point, Spielberg was a director to look out for. Spielberg won Best Screenplay at Cannes for this film, but ultimately – commercially – it flopped. Lets be honest – post ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Easy Rider’, this was a bit, well, boring. There are a few parallels too – the celebrity status of the couple also evoke the Bonnie and Clyde story, which the tragic finale, though not a shootout, is i a similar vein (It is a shootout of sorts… just nowhere nears as impressive). Another production factor is John Williams score – I personally love film scores and this one I regularly listen to on a John Williams soundtrack. It has a real softness and yet catchy theme – justified no Indiana Jones – but it fits the story, showing John Williams skills as a composer even as early as this.” (If you want to read the full post, click HERE)

There are flaws, a certain lack of characterisation in Goldie Hawn’s character, but I am pretty sure Spielberg was aware of this because it was only one year later that Spielberg directed a different film, in the style of Duel – keeping John Williams to compose the score, Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown stayed alongside Spielberg as he adapted a novel by Peter Benchley… something called Jaws

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