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#1 hal0000

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 12:21 PM

Steven Spielberg the artist. A few years ago, during my Kubrick phase, I would've scoffed at the very idea. I think my mentality was that his popularity with the masses automatically negated any value his movies had beyond the level of entertainment. Somehow, the sentimentality of his movies worked against them and I thought mainstream emotionality was somehow "manipulative." Yet something funny happened earlier this year. I watched War of the Worlds, and I cried. I have been reacting to movies more and more emotionally and I am almost shunning the academic shot-by-shot analysis I once embraced, but the idea that tears were welling up during a SPIELBERG movie of all things! Was this just Spielberg being "manipulative" or were these "real" feelings? What's the point of separation between "fake" or "genuine" emotion, anyhow?

What's exceptional about War of the Worlds is the way it integrates this emotion into the context of violence while maintaining a staunchly humanist perspective. Its focus is not on blasting Martians (or whatever they are here), but simply a father trying to protect his children against incomprehensible violence. I criticizedEbert's complaint that the aliens didn't seem "practical" because arguably, practicality would rationalize them; it would rationalize violence. The aliens here aren't meant to inspire the wonder and beauty that they did in Close Encounters. Here, they are avatars of violence--grotesque monstrosities symbolizing the chaos that exists in the world. To say that they need motive and justification is a rationalization of violence.

Minority Report makes another brilliant, albeit different, assessment of violence. In an age where human lives are thrown away onscreen like old ragdolls, here's a movie that gives death the weight it ought to have. This works, I suppose, because the movie lulls us into a sense of "safe" violence. We start believing that Pre-Crime is indeed a flawless safety net and somehow, death of any kind starts to seem unlikely. So a murder comes as a shock; we weren't expecting it because we were led to believe it was impossible. In a similar way, the movie works as a kind of wakeup call to the industry's careless treatment of violence. Movies, and more broadly, the media, do desensitize us to violence just as Pre-Crime lulls us into thinking we can't be harmed.

*And... I gotta go to class. I apologize how sloppy this is and I'll gussy it up later. For now:

hal0000's top tier Spielberg movies:

Munich
Minority Report
War of the Worlds
Close Encounters
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

second tier

The Terminal

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Color Purple

Bewildering flukes that probably reveal the inherit problems of being an artist in a popular medium:

Kingdom of Crystal Skull
Temple of Doom
Jurassic Park
The Lost World

I should probably see those last two again. And I'm late for class.

#2 marcusbulbous76

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 12:39 PM

No mention of Jaws or Schindler's List at all? I find Minority Report to be Steven Spielberg's most consequential film, but not for the reasons you posit. The film has less to do with violence as a concept than with Spielberg's larger project of producing art through popular entertainment. What perennial philosophical issues come to the surface in Minority Report are due to Philip K. Dick's story. Spielberg is interested in playing with the many facets of film as mass entertainment, and I wouldn't take any one film in his oeuvre as a meditation on anything.

#3 mikesncc1701

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 02:05 PM

I'm sorry hal, but Spielberg's War Of The Worlds was one of the biggest pieces of shit I've seen in a good while. I blind bought it the day it came out and after watching it, immediately turned in to my Hollywood Video for rental credit. The characters were unlikeable, the acting bland, no quality in the storytelling at all, and it was excruciatingly boring. It was all an absolute mess that should just be forgotten. Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and Jurassic Park has more replay value than that and is A LOT more entertaining. Now Minority Report on the other hand is a terrific allegory on the justice system and American rights and displays some of the better attempts of adapting a Philip Dick story.

#4 hal0000

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 02:05 PM

No mention of Jaws or Schindler's List because I'm an idiot, I forget things, and I'm not as pedantic as you might think--I just try to be. Violence isn't the only thing I see in Minority Report, so it shouldn't be construed as the only value I find in it. I find much of Spielberg's work very flexible and equivocal, in part because much of what he does fits into the mass appeal of a pop artist. I think we can consider War of the Worlds in the context of a post-9/11 milieu, but I don't think this is the only way to look at it.

Spielberg is interested in playing with the many facets of film as mass entertainment, and I wouldn't take any one film in his oeuvre as a meditation on anything.

I don't really get what you're saying here. "Many facets of film*" seems to sidestep any specificity his movies deal with and dismiss any issues they're about as irrelevant. Are you saying Munich isn't really concerned with Israeli-Palestinian history or that it's not only about it? Or that focusing on the issue misses the point?

* It's frustratingly vague to me as well. What sort of facets come to mind?

#5 marcusbulbous76

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 02:15 PM

I mean that I think Spielberg isn't as interested in the substance of his films as much as he is in promoting the type of film he makes. That's not a criticism, that's his prerogative. He's been singularly successful at it too. From Jaws to Close Encounters to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler's List to Jurassic Park to Minority Report. He virtually invented the blockbuster. He's an artist working towards the Sublime Perfection of mass entertainment. Sometimes you do that with thrillers, sometimes with science fiction, sometimes with swashbuckling etc.

#6 hal0000

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 03:33 PM

I might agree, if we were strictly considering director intentions. But you were the one who said that meaning isn't solely imbued by the creator and that audience interpretation created new meaning. And I'm not interested in Spielberg's intentions, but in how audience members and myself react to his movies. I don't see them purely as entertainment. I agree they are successful, or rather pinnacle, examples of mainstream movies, but to collectively see them solely as entertainment seems a dismissal of any value or meaning invested by the audience beyond the level of entertainment.

#7 marcusbulbous76

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 03:45 PM

Again I'm not being dismissive at all towards Steven Spielberg. AI and Minority Report and Indiana Jones are wonderful, they're so wholly Spielberg-ian. I'm just saying be careful ascribing certain values to the films that I don't think are there in any substantive way. Spielberg the artist is after more than statements about violence and the sorts of things film theorists busy themselves decoding out of film texts. He makes Steven Spielberg films, movie magic if you want to call it that. The stuff of the films are only vehicles towards that end.

#8 Duke Togo

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 04:23 PM

What about the audience members that think Schindler's List was about the holocaust being fake, or that American History X was trying to champion racism? Sure these kinds of opinions are clearly shite, but how do we conclude that? We compare it to what was obviously the original intent of the director/writer, and any opinions that happen to fall within this gray area are critically compared in the same manner. There are way too many possibilities for the viewer to fabricate something overly political or too close to their values, and in the end you must always come back to original intent to decide which views are close to the mark. You start to ask yourself which opinions are the most 'qualified', which taken all the way can leave only the director or writer of the material. It is a slippery slope that ultimately provides more speculation and conclusion.

So while there is nothing wrong with extracting meaning from art, it can never be more than personal. No true meaning has been extracted here. I have lots of theories I've concluded about the more mysterious films I’ve seen, but as soon as I hear the original intent from the director's mouth I have no choice but to go with it. Their vision should not be ignored when the art is theirs.

#9 hal0000

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 04:51 PM

AI and Minority Report and Indiana Jones are wonderful, they're so wholly Spielberg-ian.

Yes, but what is it you find so wonderful about them? Is it merely their ability to astonish you—the movie magic you spoke of? And is that their sole value?

I'm just saying be careful ascribing certain values to the films that I don't think are there in any substantive way.

I could say the same of your interpretation of Pulp Fiction. That perspective, while valuable, is hardly substantiated in any force. Incidentally, you seemed to dismiss any director's "intentions" while promoting your own interpretations in that instance, but here, it's quite the opposite.

So while there is nothing wrong with extracting meaning from art, it can never be more than personal. No true meaning has been extracted here. I have lots of theories I've concluded about the more mysterious films I’ve seen, but as soon as I hear the original intent from the director's mouth I have no choice but to go with it. Their vision should not be ignored when the art is theirs.


Take everything with a grain of salt. No statement can be absolute. You seem to suggest there is only one way of looking at a movie—that there's no room for interpretation once the director has spouted his or her "intentions." No, I do not think every interpretation of a movie is correct, but there is more than one way of looking at it. You are right that an artist's thoughts on his movies shouldn't be ignored, but they shouldn't be taken as gospel either. Some people will see no meaningful connections to 9/11 in War of the Worlds. I see plenty, however, and what's more, I think they are handled with unusual sensibility.

#10 Duke Togo

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 04:59 PM

^
Not really saying that either side of the interpretation is king or is meaningless, but that they should be kept separate, and I am being more cautionary than absolute. Sure, directors can jerk you off when they speak on their films, but those aren't really the instances I am talking about. Also, we can't really say those connections to 9/11 weren't intentional.

#11 hal0000

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Posted 22 July 2010 - 11:35 AM

I dunno Duke, we seem to be saying the same thing. We both think there's more than one valid interpretation of a movie and we both think there needn't be a single dominant one.

I never said the 9/11 imagery wasn't intentional, nor do I think it matters whether it was or not. Rather, I said some people might not find the allusions meaningful. Indeed, I could come up with a bushel of critics who thought the 9/11 imagery was tasteless, exploitative, and meaningless.

#12 Duke Togo

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Posted 22 July 2010 - 11:46 AM

But I still think it is a bit more complicated than that. Some films are made without any original intent, completely open-ended, and it is free game to solve the mystery that has no answer, but that once again is dictated by original intent of how you were to experience the film. I just don't think we can say the same about Spielberg, or maybe more correctly, I am not convinced we can. He always strikes me as very upfront with what his films are trying to say, and being the pinnacle of the types of films Marcus has outlined it doesn't seem that hard to believe, to me, that that is all they have to offer. It doesn't have to be seen as a bad thing either, it just is.

#13 clydefro

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:43 AM

Just concerning War of the Worlds - I found the 9/11 imagery to be in poor taste. I didn't feel like Spielberg was in any legitimate way commenting on 9/11 so his recalling of that event seemed offensive to me and needlessly evocative of the emotional pain the area had experienced. Those scenes were largely filmed, if I remember correctly, in Newark and Bayonne - both in northern New Jersey. That's near where I live so to see these relatively familiar areas being subjected to cruel attacks became too much for me in the cinema and I felt deeply uneasy. Spielberg's treatment seemed overly cold and unconcerned with the very real psychological ramifications dealt with everyday in these areas. I felt, as someone familiar with the community, exploited. I don't think Spielberg made an allegory that had anything to do with 9/11. I really don't. Maybe he thought he was doing so or maybe not, but it didn't register at all for me. I quickly resented the film.
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#14 hal0000

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 03:30 PM

^ Out of curiosity, what's the point of separation between acceptable and unacceptable allusion? I can't tell if the filmmakers of JFK or Gold Diggers of '33 or Casablanca or The Great Dictator or The Third Man are making any more or less "comment" on JFK, the Depression, WWII or post-war Europe than Spielberg is making on 9/11 in War of the Worlds, nor do I much care. What I care about is my own reaction and what moves me. What separates "genuine" and "manipulated" emotional responses? It's so easy to replace one with the other: Frank Capra makes genuinely moving pictures. Frank Capra manipulates the viewer's emotions.

What I value in War of the Worlds is in seeing a normal man trying to protect his children in the face of unspeakable destruction. He's not out to save the world or step up on his soap box but quite simply, he's looking out for his family. I find this moving in its simplicity.

Yes, but what is it you find so wonderful about them? Is it merely their ability to astonish you—the movie magic you spoke of? And is that their sole value?

I could say the same of your interpretation of Pulp Fiction. That perspective, while valuable, is hardly substantiated in any force. Incidentally, you seemed to dismiss any director's "intentions" while promoting your own interpretations in that instance, but here, it's quite the opposite.

Well marcus, I'm still waiting on your reply. What makes it acceptable to theorize about Pulp Fiction but not a Spielberg movie? You said your idea of deifying the movie medium in Pulp Fiction is there, regardless of whether Tarantino "intended" it to. I like the idea, but again, I find it a fledgling idea that's fleetingly present. In Spielberg movies, we're often dealing with an entire world—anything from childhood to the early 1900s South to the conceptual world of Minority Report. War of the Worlds is unsettling because that's what violence ought to feel like and the movie is committed to conveying that. Its violence isn't glorious or exhilarating but ugly and confusing.

I'll cast my net wider still. If you find the only value of his movies to be in making "movie magic" with mass appeal and in him "promoting the type of movie he makes," what makes you praise Spielberg while denouncing Michael Bay? Or Titanic? What's the difference between Spielberg "movie magic" and Bay "movie magic"?

#15 marcusbulbous76

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 07:53 PM

Well marcus, I'm still waiting on your reply. What makes it acceptable to theorize about Pulp Fiction but not a Spielberg movie? You said your idea of deifying the movie medium in Pulp Fiction is there, regardless of whether Tarantino "intended" it to. I like the idea, but again, I find it a fledgling idea that's fleetingly present. In Spielberg movies, we're often dealing with an entire world—anything from childhood to the early 1900s South to the conceptual world of Minority Report. War of the Worlds is unsettling because that's what violence ought to feel like and the movie is committed to conveying that. Its violence isn't glorious or exhilarating but ugly and confusing.

I'll cast my net wider still. If you find the only value of his movies to be in making "movie magic" with mass appeal and in him "promoting the type of movie he makes," what makes you praise Spielberg while denouncing Michael Bay? Or Titanic? What's the difference between Spielberg "movie magic" and Bay "movie magic"?


Well hal, I haven't replied because I have a life and have been busy this last week. And I don't really feel the desire to point out your straw man fallacy to you, but if you insist. I didn't say movies are blank slates and so therefore whatever we feel is what movies mean and filmmakers have no hand of intentionality in their films. I think films are both, but since films are so deeply, ambiguously symbolic, they can't help but largely, unintentionally, reflect the cultures they grow out of, shared history, tradition, signs and symbols and shorthand, and other unconscious biases of peoples. So Pulp Fiction can in fact involve the idea that the filmmaker is the god of his films even if Tarantino didn't explicitly design things that way, and at the same time Steven Spielberg can exert a deliberate direction for his films to take, ruling out some interpretations of some of them. Just because films mean lots of things doesn't mean they mean everything. I think you're using what you think I think to justify a flimsy theory you came up with the other day.

#16 hal0000

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 09:24 PM

^ You say films are both, but then you deny that a Spielberg movie can be seen beyond his desire to make Spielberg-ian movies. He's not really interested in violence or childhood or humanism so the movies don't mean that. But why not? In the Tarantino thread, you said:

Films are collections of symbols/cues that trigger mental processes in us. That's why many people react differently to the same film. When a bad guy twisting his mustache appears we generally ascribe badness to him. The meaning inherent in the film is the potential meaning the filmmaker wants to conjure. But it takes the spectator ultimately to invest meaning. This is not an argument for relativism. I just think the cinematic experience is more complex and two-way than the hypodermic needle argument would have it (the viewer is injected with meaning by the filmmaker and his agent, the film). What do Ozu's low angled shots 'mean'? They mean how we feel about them. There's nothing inherent in the film text, other than Ozu's intention to make us feel a certain way.


I didn't take this as "anything goes"1 but simply that "there's more than one way of looking at it; it's not that simple." Yet with Spielberg movies, you seem almost militant to deny any value beyond Spielberg's desire to make Spielberg movies. You say to "be careful ascribing value to a film there isn't there in any substantive way" but what makes your thoughts on Pulp Fiction so substantial? Furthermore, what value does the idea have? Film is god. Terrific. Now what? It's such a coldly intellectual observation that it doesn't mean anything to me emotionally.

Footnote:

1. Again, I've never said that films mean whatever we want them to mean. Just that there's more than one valid interpretation.

#17 mikesncc1701

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Posted 29 July 2010 - 05:55 AM

I'm gonna jump in here and say, that every viewer has the right to interpret what any film means to them, regardless of what the director has explicitly set out to relay. In the day and age before widespread media was available to the majority of the world, no one really had the sources to research these types of things so without this information what would you do? Now granted that everyone does have access to it this these days, it seems that everyone is content to jump on board with whatever they read or see instead of trying to really work their brains for themselves. It's not like a different interpretation of a film is actually going to hurt anyone so I just don't understand the big deal.

#18 marcusbulbous76

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Posted 29 July 2010 - 11:34 AM

^ You say films are both, but then you deny that a Spielberg movie can be seen beyond his desire to make Spielberg-ian movies. He's not really interested in violence or childhood or humanism so the movies don't mean that. But why not? In the Tarantino thread, you said:



I didn't take this as "anything goes"1 but simply that "there's more than one way of looking at it; it's not that simple." Yet with Spielberg movies, you seem almost militant to deny any value beyond Spielberg's desire to make Spielberg movies. You say to "be careful ascribing value to a film there isn't there in any substantive way" but what makes your thoughts on Pulp Fiction so substantial? Furthermore, what value does the idea have? Film is god. Terrific. Now what? It's such a coldly intellectual observation that it doesn't mean anything to me emotionally.

Footnote:

1. Again, I've never said that films mean whatever we want them to mean. Just that there's more than one valid interpretation.


You misunderstand me hal if you take my quote to mean that there are many valid interpretations of films. I'm merely iterating cognitivist film theory, that making meaning is a cognitive process occurring in the viewer, not that the viewer makes meaning by articulating his idea of what a film means. Does that make sense? Again, meaning is a two-way street- there is what the artist intends to mean and there is the vast pool of pre-existing, hidden, symptomatic meaning, that films draw on to make meaning. This has little to do with your idea of Minority Report or War of the Worlds as didactic statements on violence. You're confusing the process of making meaning with the process of inferring particular meanings in particular films, or what Bordwell calls 'mapping semantic fields'.

#19 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 29 July 2010 - 12:41 PM

I'm gonna jump in here and say, that every viewer has the right to interpret what any film means to them, regardless of what the director has explicitly set out to relay. In the day and age before widespread media was available to the majority of the world, no one really had the sources to research these types of things so without this information what would you do? Now granted that everyone does have access to it this these days, it seems that everyone is content to jump on board with whatever they read or see instead of trying to really work their brains for themselves. It's not like a different interpretation of a film is actually going to hurt anyone so I just don't understand the big deal.


Well Mike, they did have books and journals (also on microfiche) that you could research from at libraries and university libraries. I had to use these sources all the time for many of my English courses to go over various meanings in literature. There is also one other issue with this: much of the resources out there are dross. They will point you in the wrong direction not only with poor analysis, but quite often bad data. Poor information seems to travel much faster these days.

A different interpretation should not hurt as long as you are familiar with the text/movie. What hurts is when you quote a particular view/data/theory that is categorically wrong (data is usually the easiest to prove correctly :D) or you use one for a film you have not seen. An artist's intention is very important, but never the only interpretation (sometimes wrong or misleading; when I was doing an essay for Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury I found lots of inconsistencies with his statements on his own book; of course it could have been the alcohol).
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#20 mikesncc1701

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Posted 29 July 2010 - 02:00 PM

I'm in the opposite boat. I would rather watch a film and discover its meanings for myself, and then research whatever and compare my notes with what the director is trying to point out. I find it a more fun learning experience and it doesn't influence my mind as much while I'm trying to understand the meaning behind it. But going in that way, once you've already determined what something means, it kind of sticks with you regardless of whatever you've found out afterwards. Take for instance mine amd marcus' debate on Salo. About the only thing I knew about it when I first watched it YEARS ago, was that it was supposed to be the most controversial film ever and it was disturbing, sickening, etc. When I watched it, I found no evidence of any commentary on Western consumerism but more of a statement on facism and power. Marcus', apparently knowledgeable of Pasolini's intentions, preferred to view it the way the director intended him to. Nothing wrong with that by any means as I don't believe my way of viewing it is wrong either. By the way, I'm using this purely as an example and not the start of a fresh argument.




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