Undoubtedly he is the world‘s best-known film-maker. He has directed seven out of the top twenty highest-grossing films ofall time.
E. T. currently reigns as the supreme champ. with Raiders of The Lost Ark standing at number seven in the chart. and its sequel Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom lagging closely behind at number eight. Whatever else he might be. Steven Spielberg is boffo b.o. incarnate. Yet by completing the Indy trilogy with his latest offering. he at the very least looks set to equal these past successes. For in a summer scattered with major attractions like Ghostbusters 2 and Batman. its first week takings ofa tidy $5l million has seen Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade breaking all records.
The new film again stars Harrison Ford as the daring. if not indestructible hero. with Sean Connery joining the gang. well-cast in the role of lndy‘s old man. Professor Henry Jones. and turning out to be something of an archaeological adventurer himself. Together. father and son set off on the thrill-packed trail to northern Turkey in search of the lost Holy Grail. with only the pesky Nazis between them and the capture of the legendary prize. Although the endearing interplay between Jones pere et fils prevents the film from becoming just a carbon copy of the first lndy instalment. there's a familiarity about the proceedings that will hardly improve upon Spielberg‘s sometimes troubled relationship with the critics. The great moviegoing public. on the other hand. have voted with their bums. filling cinema seats all over America and. as sure as night follows day. about to do the same in Britain.
So where does this quite singular common touch stem from? Well. it could probably be put down to the pleasure principle approach he brings to his films. lfyou go to see a Spielberg movie you know you‘re going tofeel something. With his first big smasheroo Jaws it was outright fear of a plastic shark called Bruce:
(‘lose Encounters of The Third Kind brought a mystical kind of wonderment to its saga of alien contact; E. T. made us all fall in love with the kind ofchildhood friend we all could have done with; and the chase sequences in the Indiana Jones movies have all the excitement and immediacy ofa fairground rollercoaster. Even his pictures of lesser appeal have something in them to react to. With [941 one wondered just why a childlike urge to blow things up had been indulged to such an unprofitable degree. Above all. Spielberg‘s films are about the emotions we experience while we‘re watching them. As such. they are the paradigm of the American commercial cinema. where emotions (be it laughter. tears. or sexual arousal) are the most saleable ofcommodities. However. this emphasis on what our stomachs are doing while we‘re riding the rollercoaster. is what. broadly speaking. marks out the typical Hollywood product from the
WHERE’S TH BEF
Sean Connry and Harrison Ford in Indiana Joiyes and the a crusade ' ‘
He’s had more blockbuster hits than any director ofhis generation. but how long can Steven Speilberg go on making movies for people who never grew up? Trevor Johnston assesses his career in light of Indiana Jones
and The Last Crusade.
European model ofcinema. Again broadly speaking. there's an aesthetic at work on this side of the Atlantic which regards film as an intrinsically valuable artform.
()fcourse. Spielberg would probably never claim to be making the kind of ‘art movie' we would associate with the likes of. say. Resnais. Antonioni. (iodard and the rest. And how many of the punters at the ()deon of a Saturday night have ever heard ofthem anyway? It may be tempting to put it down to a certain cultural snobbishness. but for this viewer's money. Steve the people‘s choice-has never made a film of the combined thematic grit. emotional power. and stylistic elan of(picks Euro masterpiece out of the air) . . . Bergman's Persona. for example. Hands up how many of you out there have seen that. Thought so.
OK. so one more predictably
mewling cincaste will hardly cause Spielberg to jack it all in and start folding cardboard boxes fora living. At the same time. it would be a distortion to cast him as some kind of super-vulgarian forever pandering to the gallery. for at their best his films are quite magically entertaining. The man himself is very knowledgeable about the history of the medium. and in the past has expressed admiration fora wide number ofdirectorial talents. from the obvious Hollywood old masters like Frank Capra. John Ford. Preston Sturges. through to the likes of Akira Kurosawa or the (‘zech Jiri Menzel (his I966 ( )scar winner ( lose/y ()hsert'ed Trains is a Stevie fave).
Above all. Spielberg has talked most lovingly about his hero David Lean. and was personally involved in helping instigate (‘olumbia l’ictures’ massive refurbishment job on Lawrence ofA rahia. Yet. one feels
here that it‘s the way the film is put together that gets him drooling. As a product of a childhood spent turning out one little Super ts’mm movie after another (several ofwhich made their money back by playing Scottsdale. Arizona's local cinema). he is intensely involved in the intricacies of filmic technique. Firsthand reports from producer Robert Watts and leading lady Alison Doody attest to the relentless energy he puts into the shooting process. often to the extent offalling asleep in his editing chair at night. Yet the perfect shock moments in Jan-s. [941‘s brilliant danceﬂoor section. or the breathless chases above and below ground in the Indy movies. are ample evidence that he's become very. very good at it.
Further consideration though. has to probethe guiding vision behind [his effortless facilin for stylish audience manipulation. and throughout his filmography the need fora fulfillingfamilialgrouping has been a consistent factor. ('Iose Encounters of The Third Kind sees protagonist Dreyfuss finally achieving the status of a child anew in the confines of the alien mothership; If. '1'. of course has loner boy Eliott discovering the ability to give and receive altection within the context ofan extraterrestrial bonding; and in both his so-called ‘serious' films The ('o/or Purple and Empire of The Sun he has softened the harsh edges of the source material to turn them into rather superficial melodramas of familial parting and cathartic reunion.
While [5. T. 's genuinely moving evocation ofchildhood's purest affections remains his crowning achievement. it could have been the foundation stone of a more substantial critical assessment. But since then the films have perhaps been mildly disappointing. The \\ ay for such a gifted craftsman to develop into a mature artist is stti'clv not by doing another two Indiana Jones epics. while there's a certain glibness to the art — suffering impulse behind the choice of Walker and Ballard as material. l)olingotlt the unsuitany uplifting Spielberg treatment. it‘s with these resistibly cloying films that he came quite a creative cropper. throwing severe doubt on his ability to handle the shadings of light and dark in a complex adult world.
His next project is entitled Always. and will star Dreyfuss again as a forest park helicopter firefighter who returns from the dead fora romantic entanglement with his former sweetheart Holly l lunter. It's a remake of Vic tor l‘leming's l‘NJ melodrama Spencer 'l‘racy ‘l rene [)unne melodrama .-l (luv Named
Joe. which Spielberg has described as 'only the second movie that made me cry that didn't have a deer in it‘ Still. he's only 42. we ha\ e togive him a few years yet to get old and wise.
Indiana Jones and [he I (MI ( rusm/r‘ opens ucrm v ( 'entIal Scotland from June .ll). See the Film section for complete programme details and a full review.
Theft; so tribe 9 "is July lW‘t—S